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Gujarat: Cement for grain ?

 

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The Gujarat government is planning a 920 sq km Special Investment Region in Dholera. But farmers in the fertile area are not willing to give up their land. By ANUPAMA KATAKAM in Dholera

Acres and acres of healthy and ripe wheat and cumin cover the fields that line the 100-kilometre highway from Ahmedabad to Dholera. By early March, the crop will be harvested. In all likelihood it will be a good season, as it usually is, say farmers in this belt. Known popularly as the wheat bowl of , this is one of the most fertile regions in the State.

The Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government plans to turn this rich agricultural belt into one of the many Special Investment Regions (SIRs) the State has planned.

Looking at the fields, it is unimaginable that the Modi government will carve out 920 square kilometres from agricultural land for a massive industrial and trading hub called the Dholera Special Investment Region (DSIR). Environmental clearances have been obtained, the area has been demarcated, and several private industrial houses have already visited the site hoping to bid for a piece of the pie.

Dholera is one among the 13 SIRs the Gujarat government plans to build. It is also one of the 24 nodal points in the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC). There are six nodes in Gujarat on the DMIC. Dholera will be the first to be developed. While the government may see it as a big step in its master plan, farmers and activists say that Dholera is a high-yielding region with some of the best varieties of wheat, cumin and chickpea. All of it will be lost if the SIR comes up.

Additionally, the proposed DSIR is just 600 metres from the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar. The park is a unique grassland habitat for endangered species such as lesser floricans, harriers, wolves and hyenas. Wildlife activists say the proposed site will pose a danger to the rich biodiversity of the area.

Clearly, when it comes to the debate on compromising agriculture in the name of industrial development, it is very rare that the agriculture argument wins in Modi’s Gujarat. Several examples such as land given to private automobile plants or to oil and gas factories in the recent past have shown that Modi believes industry is the only way to development.

The “small problem” with farmers is dealt with in true Modi-style governance. He manages to bulldoze his way through if he has to please industry. Most Gujarat projects, the Sardar Sarovar dam being the most obvious, will show how farmers and tribal people are completely marginalised. Land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation are minor issues for this State. And what is worse is that any form of people’s movement or opposition to projects is suppressed.

Dholera a trading hub againIn the 18th century, Dholera used to be a trading port due to its proximity to the Gulf of Khambat. Although the port did not survive, the strategic location of Dholera makes it a sought-after area for trade. Situated about 100 km from Ahmedabad, this tehsil is approximately halfway between Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. It is just 278 km away from Surat, 313 km from Jamnagar, 225 km from Rajkot and 134 km from Vadodara, all major cities and industrial and trading hubs. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the DMIC has identified this area as one of 25 industrial nodes proposed along the DMIC.

Dholera will be Gujarat’s first SIR, and also the first under the DMIC Project, a joint initiative with Japan. The DMIC is a high-impact industrial area within 150 km of the Government of India’s Delhi Freight Corridor (DFC). The DFC will cover a distance of 1,483 km between the two metros. Gujarat will accommodate almost 38 per cent of the DFC. It is estimated that a third of the expected $90-billion investment will be made in Gujarat.

According to information provided by the government, the DMIC’s goals include doubling employment potential, tripling industrial output and quadrupling exports from the region, all within five years.

The government says Dholera, supported by world-class infrastructure, will be “the engine for economic resurgence of the country”. The DSIRs project goals say “the region will be a self-governed economic region which is supported by the government and will allow private sector participation”.

The Development Report says the DSIR will encompass 22 villages and take over most of the Narmada command area. Project plans include the development of 9,225 hectares of land up to 2040. The DSIR will have industrial parks, townships and knowledge cities. Its connectivity is its biggest plus point, says the report. Therefore, a metro rail system and an international airport form part of the plan. The economic activity mix is expected to employ over 3.4 lakh workers.

Glitzy pictures of what the new township and industrial hub will look like have been circulated among the farmers. They are not impressed and, in fact, are determined to fight the project.

“The Modi government enacted the Special Investment Region Act in 2009 to execute these ambitious projects. This Act overrides the Land Acquisition Act, which gives some protection. Additionally, the government is using the Bombay Town Planning Act, 1954, to further the agenda of SIRs,” says Sagar Rabari from the Jameen Adhikar Andolan. This empowers the local authorities to prepare Development Plans for cities or towns within the State.

“The Andolan has been mobilising farmers to fight for their rights and we will do everything to stop the SIR,” says Rabari. But every rally or demonstration is thwarted by the government. “They have not allowed us to enter Gandhinagar. The Minister from the area has told farmers not to bother him with the SIR issue as he cannot do anything.”

Can we eat ?Geetaben Jadav’s face is completely concealed by her saree. One expected a shy voice and is startled to hear a booming voice saying: “They will build huge factories in the SIR which will produce machines, chemicals and cement. Can we eat cement? What will we give our children if they take away our land?”

Sarsla village has gathered for a public meeting to discuss the SIR. Interestingly, the women, who are not allowed to show their faces (they do, eventually, as the reporter is a woman) and live by a general code of submissiveness, are vociferous in their opinion on the SIR. “We will give up our lives but not our land. Our land is our bread and butter. Their compensation will not replace the land,” says Geetaben Jadav.

Dholera has farmers with large landholdings as well as small farmers, owning anything between five acres and 50 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare). Largely rain-fed, the main crops grown are wheat, cumin, rye, cotton and chickpea. Although in the Narmada command area only a few small canals have been built and the water does not reach the fields, farmers say that the crops grow well in the rain-fed area as the land is extremely fertile.

“They will give factories Narmada water, but they won’t give us. If we had that water, we could grow sugarcane, which is very productive,” says Narayanbhai Chauhan, a village elder. “My question is, if they take way our land, what will happen to us?”

“We heard about the SIR after the Vibrant Gujarat Summit 2007. The government, however, only came to us with its plans in 2011,” says Pradhumansinh Chudasama, a farmer with a large landholding from Bavaliari village in Dholera. “They had meetings in all the villages but it was more to tell us about it and then take our consent.”

Even though environment impact assessment meetings were held, it seemed more of a formality then a genuine effort. They did not pay heed to any of the environmental or wildlife concerns. “The government will do what they want,” says Chudasama.

“This land is so fertile that we just need to sow the seeds and wait for some rainfall, and the crop grows,” says Chudasama, who owns about 30 acres of land. “We realise that Dholera is very well located. But why can’t they use wasteland for these projects? Why take away our livelihood?”

One acre produces 1.5 tonnes of wheat. Because it is an organic type, the earns about Rs.800 per 20 kilograms. If a farmer has an average of 10 acres, he will reap approximately 15,000 kg, which will earn him close to Rs.6 lakh a year just on one crop.

Cumin, of course, is much more expensive. An acre yields one tonne of cumin. For every 20 kg of cumin, the farmer earns Rs.2,500. If a farmer has an average of 10 acres, he will reap approximately 10,000 kg of cumin, which earns him close to Rs.12.5 lakh a year. Each acre of chickpea produces 1.5 tonnes of the pulse. The farmer earns Rs.600 for every 20 kg. Because it is non-irrigated and mostly organic and pesticides and fertilizers are not used, the production costs are nominal, says Chudasama.

“The government told us we will get hospitals, schools and industries where people will get employment and the new towns will increase the real estate value. But we do not need any of this. In any case, by law they should be providing us government schools and hospitals,” says Anirudh Chudasama, another farmer. “We have just started the protest. Farmers are ready to fight.”

Rabari says that given the hierarchical structure of village society, it is important to convince the upper castes and bigger farmers about the movement. Unless they are converted and are willing to protest, it will be a pointless exercise because the smaller farmers and the landless and lower-caste people take their cue from them. In this case, even the big farmer is furious and ready to battle.

“Every time we plan a meeting, they surround the place with policemen. The last time we planned a tractor rally to Gandhinagar they denied us permission. But we will continue our agitation,” says Anirudh Chudasama.

Instances such as Jamnagar farmers losing a Supreme Court case which allowed Reliance to acquire land should perhaps tell Dholera’s farmers that they may have little choice in the matter. Yet, they seem determined to fight.

Printable version | Mar 20, 2014 10:59:58 PM | http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/cement-for-grain/article5787665.ece

 

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