Social activist Lakhan Musafir, 59, has been externed for six months from five districts of Narmada, Bharuch, Vadodara, Chhota Udepur and Tapi, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kevadia in Narmada district on October 31 to inaugurate the seaplane service connecting Statue of Unity to Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, as well as the jetty service downstream the Narmada River.
Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Rajpipla issued the order banishing Musafir, who was served a notice for proceedings of externment in March this year, under section 56(A), Gujarat Police Act 1951. He has been accused of “inciting locals against government, trading in liquor and being part of anti-social groups”.
The order by Rajpipla SDM, KD Bhagat, has relied on two FIRs registered against him in 2019 for rioting, unlawful assembly, causing hurt to public servants and criminal intimidation and also accused Musafir of being involved in illicit liquor trade although no complaint has been registered against him under the Prohibition Act so far.
The order, dated September 14, states, “In view of the application submitted by the Superintendent of Police of Narmada District, the accussed Lakhan Musafir is a dubious person. I know that he does not have any honest means of livelihood and along with his accomplices, is continuously inciting local villagers in Kevadia around the Statue of Unity as well as the Narmada dam. Along with many anti-social elements, Musafir is known to organise public gatherings to mislead the people into anti government activities.”
The SDM further said that Musafir is known for “anti-government slogans” and interrupting government works to breach law and order. It states, “…In several incidents in the past he and his accomplices, have indulged in fights with government officials as well as officers of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam limited (SSNNL) and broken the peace and law in the area.”
The order further accuses Musafir or “targetting” the SoU, which has earned Kevadia much repute and says that no villager is willing to stand witness against Musafir due to the “fear” he has instilled among people.
It says, “Time and again, he has targeted the Statue of Unity located inKevadia by gathering his group of anti-social elements as well as people from the villages close by to indulge in anti-government activity…”
The two FIRs against Musafir in Kevadia police station date back to January and October 2019. In January 2019, Musafir was accused of leading a mob that resorted to rioting at the ground breaking ceremony of the Haryana Bhavan near SOU at the hands of Haryana Chief Minister ManoharLal Khattar. The matter is pending in court.
The second case registered against Musafir is of October 31, 2019 — the day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kevadia to inaugurate peripheral tourist spots around SoU. Musafir, who has now taken shelter in Mandvi taluka of Surat district, told The Indian Express,
“They booked me in the two cases by design because they were planning to outlaw me since over seven years, ever since I joined villagers protesting against the Garudeshwar Weir and then the Statue of Unity. They had no cases to outlaw me. I am a simple man who has been involved in agriculture and to make villagers self-sufficient.”
The SDM’s order adds that a “private inquiry” conducted by him revealed that Musafir was known to assault people “as well as have them assaulted by his group of anti-social elements”. Although the initial hearing on the notice of externment was scheduled for March 24 this year, it was shifted to July due to Covid-19 lockdown.
In his reply to the notice of July 13, Musafir called himself a “Gandhian” and denied allegations of inciting villagers or being involved in bootlegging. He said, “The charges levelled against me are false… I am involved in activities related to Gandhian principles… Taking people’s genuine complaints to the government can never be called a crime.”
Musafir has also cited recommendations about him from from former Gujarat Chief Ministers Sureshchandra Mehta and Amarsinh Chaudhary as well as five other friends. However, the SDM said that two cases registered against Musafir is evidence enough.
Musafir said, “The Kevadia police accompanied me to Mandvi, after confirming from me where I would be staying for six months. I have to report to the Mandvi police station every 15 days.”
“The Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Act, 2019 has been executed. PM Modi will inaugurate the seaplane service next month. They do not want anyone around who support local protests. The fact is that the protests are being organised by the locals because they are aware of their rights… The government failed to address the issues of the local people related to land acquisition and submergence of villages due to the Garudeshwar Weir. People are agitated. There are many other projects planned in the area that will take away the essential tribal identity of the people along with their lands,” he says.
Musafir, originally from Bhavnagar, says he moved to Mathavadi village in Kevadia. “I moved to this place in 1986 when villagers were agitating against land acquisition for the Narmada Dam. I did not directly join the agitation but I have been a sympathiser of anyone who loses their land, in any part of the state. My interest lies in farming and I taught many villagers techniques for organic farming, selflessly. The aim was to make them self reliant. Over the years, I have imbibed the tribal way of life myself,” says Musafir, adding that he is not affiliated to any political party.
Kevadia had seen clashes between villagers and officials of SSNNL and police in May and June this year when the SSNNL took possession of and fenced lands acquired in 1961 after the Gujarat High Court dismissed a petition filed by six affected villages around the Statue of Unity.
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