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No poll heat in Dediapada, eco-sensitive notification unknown to many tribals

The election campaign is conspicuous by its absence -- only two hoardings of the four BJP candidates contesting the Narmada District Panchayat elections serve as a reminder that an election is coming up on Sunday.

Written by Aditi Raja | Dediapada |
February 26, 2021 4:02:52 am
Dediapada town, Narmada District Panchayat election, Gujarat district panchayat election, Narmada district eco-sensitive zones, gujarat news, indian express newsSeveral villages in the taluka were included under the classification of 121 villages as eco-sensitive zones. (Photo: Bhupendra Rana)

On a scorching afternoon, in the thick of ongoing local body poll campaigns, Dediapada town should have been witnessing the heat of the political activity.

But, instead, the main junction represents the picture of a world from another time. The election campaign is conspicuous by its absence — only two hoardings of the four BJP candidates contesting the Narmada District Panchayat elections serve as a reminder that an election is coming up on Sunday.

At a sugarcane juice stall, owned by UP-migrant Ram Singh Yadav, visitors display as much ignorance about the upcoming poll issues as Yadav himself.

“I have been living in Dediapada for 40 years and I am a voter. But here, we have only seen parties joining hands and working together. We only vote for the parties that our families have been traditionally voting for,” he says.

After almost half an hour, the first election tempo of the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) makes an appearance — on the loudspeaker is the promise of “protection of tribal rights, restoration of ownership on their land.”

Several villages in the taluka have been included under the classification of 121 villages of Narmada district as eco-sensitive zones, as per the May 2016 notification of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which is being implemented since November last year.

The issue of the eco-sensitive zone had caused much uproar across the tribal belt of Narmada. It was after BJP Bharuch MP Mansukh Vasava’s resignation from the BJP that the state government directed the district administration to withdraw the ‘revenue records entry’ of the villages as ‘ESZ’. The notification, however, remains in place without the explicit mention of individual records.

Vasava had withdrawn his resignation after the government decided to erase the entries on the documents.

About five kilometres away from the town junction is the first settlement of villages — Navagam, Bogaj, Jawali and Koliwad — falling under the eco-sensitive zone. Sarpanch Mulji Vasava is a BJP candidate for the Dediapada taluka panchayat.

Mulji is busy campaigning in the neighbourhood villages — the topic of discussion is “Vikas (development) for job opportunities”. Examples of Kevadia turning into a tourist hub are cited and no one wants the implementation of the eco-sensitive zone. Mulji says, “The issue of the eco-sensitive zone is not worrisome anymore because all gram sabhas have passed a resolution against the implementation of the notification… On this matter, all three parties — BTP, Congress and BJP — have come together and assured the tribals that the government will not take away their lands. The area has basic amenities already, we have new schools built here. Bogaj village cluster has a literacy rate of 72% and Koliwad 63%. People want employment for a better future.”

Like Mulji, three other sarpanches of the neighbouring villages are also BJP candidates. Muljialso expressed hope that the BJP would win the seats of the Dediapada taluka panchayat this time — in 2015, the BJP lost power to BTP here. The JD(U) won 12 of the 22 seats while BJP won six and Congress four. The JD(U) then led by Chhotu Vasava, broke away from the parent party to become BTP and was in alliance with Congress. Now, the BTP has tied up with All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) for the local body polls.

A senior elected representative of the Congress from the district says that the three parties did not want to create a political issue out of the eco-sensitive zone and decided to resolve it together.

In the villages, the local tribals do not know what eco-sensitive notification means. A group of young men from Bogaj village break into a laugh when asked about the notification. Khimji Vasava, a 25-year-old villager says, “We have been told that the government is trying to establish their right on our lands. But all the leaders have told us that they are fighting against it and in the local newsletters of the town, we read reports of how the leaders succeeded in pushing the government back. So, we have full faith in them and we know nothing wrong will happen.”

The BTP, on the other hand, has been running its campaign on the tribal issues of land ownership. Ambalal Jadav, spokesperson of BTP, says, “The issue of the eco-sensitive zone is a grave one. It reflects the ideology of the BJP and the Congress of the disregard they have towards the existence of the tribals. The BTP was the one raising the issue of the land rights of tribals … We are trying to make them aware that the government has only removed the explicit mention of the word ‘eco-sensitive zone’ from the revenue records, it does not change the status of the notification.”

At the town junction, Rakesh Vasava, a 23-year-old graduate from the Industrial Training Insititute in the town, says, “We don’t have too many employment opportunities here. There is a training institute but the placement has not been well paid. There are some who have got employment in the Dudhdhara dairy plant but most of the youth have to move to other cities. Even if they develop Dediapada like Kevadia, how many years would it be from now?”

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