The Gujarat government on Wednesday decided to “withdraw” revenue record entry from the lands of 121 villages falling under the eco-sensitive zone in Narmada district, which is home to the Statue of Unity and the Kevadia tourism circuit.
The development comes a day after BJP Lok Sabha MP from Bharuch, Mansukh Vasava, submitted his resignation from the party to party’s state chief C R Paatil. Last week Mansukh had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointing out issues in the notifying of the tribal lands under eco-sensitive zones.
While Vasava announced his decision to withdraw the resignation Wednesday, the state BJP tribal cell leaders said that the government had decided to “correct the mistake” made by the Narmada district administration that had led to “deep anguish and misunderstanding” among the tribal communities. The district administration, however, maintained that it is following the “guidelines” of the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in matters of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ).
On Wednesday, tribal leaders of the BJP, including Vasava, also attended a meeting chaired by state Cabinet Minister Ganpat Vasava to “look into the issues” of the tribal communities in Narmada after notices were issued by the taluka mamlatdars to execute the MoEFCC’s May 2016 notification. Senior party leaders said a resolution was passed stating the state government would issue a new guideline and thereby “withdraw the revenue record entry” for the eco-sensitive zones earmarked in 14 villages of Garudeshwar taluka where the entries have been made so far. These villages are a part of the 121 under the eco-sensitive zone.
Former BJP MLA from Dediapada, Motilal Vasava, who is the head of the party’s state tribal cell, told The Indian Express, “In the meeting, we put forth the fact that the miscommunication and misunderstanding among the tribals regarding the notification on the eco-sensitive zone have created a major issue, which the Opposition was exploiting… The district administration had wrongly made entries in the revenue records and included rights of the state government which gave an impression to the tribals that the former has become an owner of their land. It is not a part of the provisions. This mistake has to be corrected, and so, the government will make an announcement within a day or two.”
While the party leaders shifted the blame on to the district administration, the Narmada district authorities maintain that they were only following the “guidelines” of the MoEFCC. Resident Additional Collector of Narmada, HK Vyas, told The Indian Express that the entry in the revenue record was made as per the “provisions” in the “beeja haq” (other rights) column of the land records, which must reflect the status of the lands as “eco-sensitive zone”. He also clarified that the withdrawal of the physical entry would not change the status of the land or the zone.
“There has been a misunderstanding that the state government is trying to seek ownership on the lands. The fact is that the entire area, all 121 villages included, have been under the ESZ since May 5, 2016, when the final notification was published by the MoEFCC. However, the execution of the notification, as per the provisions, was not done, which means the mandatory requirement to mark the ESZ entry on the status of the land on the revenue record. The exercise was undertaken recently after requests from the Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) Narmada, but was misunderstood due to the ignorance and miscommunication among the locals,” Vyas said.
The officer added that following the resolution of the state government to “withdraw” the revenue record entry, marking lands as ESZ, the respective revenue offices will now “physically verify” the status of the lands on a case-to-case basis if an application is made by a local for any activity on the land.
“We will maintain a record of the revenue survey numbers of the lands from these villages falling under ESZ and verify their status whenever an application is made. Effectively, it will only be removed as an “entry” on the physical record document so that it clears the air.
Otherwise, it will still be mandatory for the locals to apply for necessary permissions before undertaking any activity on the lands, which will be scrutinised by the Local Monitoring Committee and approved by the state government. We are likely to receive the formal request from the DCF for the withdrawal of the ESZ status from revenue records soon,” he added.
On November 7, the mamlatdar (taluka head) of Garudeshwar taluka had issued the first notice to Gora village, located right across the Statue of Unity on the other side of the Narmada river from Kevadia, setting off a series of objections, protests, and opposition from tribal leaders across party lines.
The notice was based on a letter of the Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Narmada, dated January 21, 2020, which cited the May 2016 notification of the MoEFCC declaring an eco-sensitive zone around the Shooplaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, which has many species of animals and a total protected area is 60770.78 hectares. Of this, 3,184.13 hectares were diverted for the Sardar Sarovar Project dam in 1987.
As per the provisions of the said notification of the central government, land in the eco-sensitive zone — including that of the forest and horticulture departments, for agricultural use, and plots reserved for parks — will not be allowed to be transferred for non-agricultural use for commercial, industrial or residential purposes. Any lands, it sated, which needed to be transferred for non-agricultural use will require a mandatory approval from the state government, based on an application of a Local Monitoring Committee, to be set up to clear such applications.
A process was also initiated to include the state government as having “rights” on the lands in 121 villages.
The notice served to villages for the inclusion of the state government as having “rights” on the land in the Record of Rights prescribed under Village Form VII of the Land Revenue Records, had sparked protests. “Our protest was not against the eco-sensitive zone but the harassment it was causing the tribals due to such entries in records,” Motilal Vasava said.
Last week, Mansukh Vasava, in a letter to the Prime Minister, had cited the example of Rajasthan, where the notification for the eco-sensitive zone had been withdrawn in the “interest of farmers and locals”.
Vasava had said, “In the name of the notification of the MoEFCC, government officials have begun interfering in the private properties of the tribals. The local tribals in Narmada have not been taken into confidence or given the understanding of the issue, which has created fear and mistrust among them. The locals are preparing for protests and some opposition parties are leveraging on the lack of communication between the government and the locals, inciting them against the government.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines