On October 31, when the world’s tallest statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, standing 182 metres tall, will be unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the tribal population in 15 districts of Gujarat is all set to observe a “black day”. On Thursday, one more tribal-dominated village — Mahupada in Narmada district — passed a resolution in gram sabha declaring that the residents will not take part in any activity related to the Statue of Unity, registering their protest against land acquisition by the government for the project.
Earlier, two more villages — Paat in Sagbara taluka of Narmada district and Vyara in Tapi district — had passed similar resolutions.
The resolution passed by the villages read, “In due time, the Statue of Unity will be inaugurated in Narmada district. For the construction of the project, land belonging to tribal population residing in the area have been acquired. This is unjust for the tribal population. Hence, we resolve that we will not participate in any activities related to the Statue of Unity, be it promotional events like the Ekta Yatra.”
The tribal belt from Umargaam to Ambaji, comprising 15 tribal districts and 5,500 tribal villages, have also called a bandh and protest on October 31, which is also the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel.
“We do not have anything against Sardar Patel. But we feel that had he been alive, he would not have agreed to the construction of such a huge statue at such a huge expense, when the common tribal population across the state is still suffering for basic necessities. No food will be cooked in tribal households, which according to tribal traditions is practised when someone in the family dies,” said Amarsinh Chaudhary, a tribal rights activist who was an MP in the 70s and will be spearheading the movement from Tapi district.
Most of the residents of Paat village, which has a population of around 1,500 and was the first village to pass a resolution on October 15 against the BJP government’s plan to hold a mega event for the unveiling of the statue, have migrated to cities in search of work after their crop yield remained below average due to lack of rainfall and in the absence of any additional water supply for irrigation.
“Activities in the name of development have killed our Narmada river, have killed our men, displaced them, took away their precious land and left them jobless and forcing them to look for work elsewhere. Water is being used to beautify the area ahead of the inauguration but it won’t be used for farmers in Narmada,” said 45-year-old Vinod Vasava, who lives in a two-room kuccha house with a family of five and owns two acres of land. He returned to his village two days ago after working in Surat as a contractual labourer. “Rain was insufficient this year, and we did not get any additional water supply. The produce isn’t enough to sustain the family, so we move out to cities to look for work,” he said.
Villagers claimed that they obstructed the Ekta Yatra, carried out by the BJP, in the run-up to the unveiling of the statue, to pass through their village on Wednesday.
Similar resentment against the government was witnessed among the the tribal population living in and around the Setu Bet, in Waghadia, Limdi and Navagaam villages who have been constantly agitating against the acquisition of land for the various government projects.
On Monday, the state government decided to modify its relief package for the residents of six villages around Kevadia Colony near Narmada dam and seven villages affected by Garudeshwar Weir in Narmada district. As per the latest decision, affected families who want land in return for their land will get land, and those who want money will get Rs 7,50,000 per hectare under the amended relief package.
However, the government’s move has failed to mollify the villagers who outrightly refused to accept such packages.
According to a former village sarpanch, Punabhai Tadvi, 3,500 people from 19 villages were promised jobs, while only 450 benefited ultimately after their lands were acquired for the Sardar Sarovar Dam. “Time and again, we have given up our land for activities that do not hold any benefit to us. Five households were rendered homeless to set up the Shreshta Bharat Bhavan. At least 28 families were displaced for the road widening. Now, they want to build bhavans for every state and they will displace us again. And in return families are only displaced, not rehabilitated,” Tadvi added.
He was referring to the government’s plan to set up bhavans for each state in the proximity of the Statue of Unity.