Amid much euphoria, the ‘Gujarat Model’ is going national. It would have been better for the new prime minister if the mood of the nation was matched by the mood of the farmers of the state, whose agricultural turnaround has been dubbed ‘miraculous’. In this sense, it is a polarising model. Much of Gujarat (unaware of rural or agricultural life and reality) as the rest of India has also been taken up by the dream of waterfront city, riverfront, lakefront, flyovers and bridges, metros and BRTS, and ring road and SIR, SEZ, then smart cities, DMFC and DMIC and private ports and clubs. If you watched the GIDB clip for Dholera SIR on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgzcwAjNDmg) you would be tempted too. The promise and lure of ‘waterfront city’, planned and zoned development (R&D zone, Entertainment zone, Residential zone, Commercial zone), renewable energy and sustainability, in fact, ‘A New Gujarat within Gujarat’ can be hard to resist. Yet, it is being resisted. The people of the area are resisting it, they are contesting the claims of the Government of Gujarat on many fronts, they are asking questions, they are opposing this development. The government has not answered their questions, not talked to them, not tried to understand their issues, not invited them for discussions. The pastoralists of Hansalpur have been waiting to be heard for the last two years. This was so in Mandal-Bechraji SIR as well from where it (SIR) was booted out. The SIR was ousted from Olpad and Hazira too.
Why is there such vast difference in the view of the government and the people of the areas? The government claims that it will benefit the people of the area; the people of the area are saying it will only lead to their impoverishment. The government claims that jobs will be created; the people are saying those jobs will not go to them. The government claims it is the best deal for the people; the people are saying it is a death-knell for them.
Such polarisation does not indicate ‘inclusive development’. It appears that the language of inclusion in official documents and speeches masks the reality of exclusion in practice. Our work at the grassroots level with the many agitations against land acquisition makes us believe so.
SIR Act 2009: Its background
The background to the Gujarat Special Investment Region Act 2009" (hereafter called the SIR Act) needs to be understood. The Shipping Ministry, in 2005, had first mooted the concept of a Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) between Tughlakabad and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai.1 The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), was mooted by the Finance Ministry and the Planning Commission in September 2007.2
The Western DFC is to run from Dadri in the National Capital Region of Delhi to the JN Port near Mumbai, passing through Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The Delhi-Mumbai leg of the Golden Quadrilateral National Highway also runs almost parallel to the Freight Corridor. The DMIC is a band of 150 km (Influence region) on both the sides of the DFC. High impact/market driven nodes – Integrated Investment Regions (IRs) and Industrial Areas (IAs) have been identified along the corridor to provide transparent and investment-friendly facility regimes. These regions are proposed to be self-sustained industrial townships with world-class infrastructure, road and rail connectivity for freight movement to and from ports and logistic hubs, served by domestic/ international air connectivity, reliable power, quality social infrastructure to provide a globally competitive environment conducive for setting up businesses. 38% of the DMIC zone falls in the state of Gujarat affecting 18 out of 26 districts in the state. Land for this is being developed in Gujarat under the provisions of the SIR Act, which was passed by the state Assembly in 2009.3
In the absence of exact figures, it is difficult to estimate how much of land in which districts is going to be taken over for these projects. However, as the figure above shows, nearly half of Gujarat falls in the DFC-DMIC zone, and it includes the entire ‘eastern tribal belt’ and the whole of south Gujarat.
Resistance against land acquisition / diversification of land to industry
Firstly, let us emphatically state that the widely-held notion that industrialisation in Gujarat is happening with the consent of the farmers is far from the truth. In 2012, then CM of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, had said that “the process ... (of land acquisition) does not create disputes, rather the industrial development has encouraged the farmers to give their contribution in the development”. Even the Supreme Court had lauded the state for its ‘model of land acquisition’. It compared states where “forcible acquisition” using an emergency clause under the Act had almost become a norm to Gujarat. “But there is one state from where we do not receive such complaints. Look at Ahmedabad which is developing but there are no complaints from that place.”
But contrary to the image of the state as one that offers a “model of land acquisition for industrial development” to the rest of India, the state has witnessed some high profile mass movements, localised resistances, as also legal battles many leading to gruesome murders, most notably of Col. Save who was a strident opponent of the Maroli-Umargam Port Project4 and Amit Jethva of Junagadh5 who was opposing the illegal mining by prominent politicians of the area there. Besides these acts of violence, the state has witnessed numerous mass protests and non-violent struggles against land acquisition for commercial purposes. Some of these were very high profile and invited the wrath of the state like the protests against the Sardar Sarovar dam on river Narmada. Even recently the case of the proposed cement plant by Nirma Ltd. in Mahua, Bhavnagar received wide publicity and had ultimately to be abandoned in the face of mass protests by farmers as well as the intervention of the Supreme Court and the MoEF which ultimately cancelled the approval. Some of the other contestations in Gujarat are Mundra, Mithi Virdi, Vadodra Jhala, Olpad, Hazira, Mandal-Bechraji, Jamnagar, Dholera, Kadadara, Vatva-Vasana Rathod in Dehgam taluka of Gandhinagar (where the state had to withdraw due to strong protest from the villagers). The movements in Gujarat were not noticed by SC, as the rest of Gujarat and India, because all the movement here were peaceful protests, and the people have shown amazing restraint despite great provocation by the state.
In fact, the agitation against Mandal-Bechraji SIR between May and August 2013 was a very high profile agitation where the people of the area, men and women, had numerous public protests and the then CM was forced to cancel the project. The MBSIR notification pertained to 50884.8362 hectares (approximately 500 sq KM) spread over 44 villages in 4 talukas of 3 (Surendranagar, Mehsana and Ahmedabad) districts. The area has fertile land and the farmers wished to continue with their agricultural operations. The KADA (Kevadia Area Development Authority) was a similar intense and high-profile agitation by the tribals of 70 villages falling in the KADA boundary. The government wanted to acquire their land around the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam site in Kevadia Colony to develop tourism. The government notified land acquisition in 16 villages first and then in a total of 70 villages which are part of the Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA) that has been established to develop tourism. This, after displacing the tribals on account of the dam. Under the KADA notification, the government intended to develop a water park, hotels, golf course, camping ground, trekking trails, boating facilities, sunset viewpoints, resort clubs and water sports, among other things.6 The Statue of Unity, a 597-foot statue of Sardar Patel is also being proposed in the vicinity, and slated to be a major tourist attraction.7 Alongside this is the Garudeshwar Weir, 13 km. downstream of the Narmada dam, which will submerge 7 villages. The KADA notification was subsequently cancelled on October 28 2013.
SIRs as the best option
The Gujarat Industrial Development Board’s (GIDB) website hails SIRs as the ‘future of Gujarat’. A recent editorial in the Financial Express titled ‘Land Solution’ appeared on 26/4/14. It pointed out the limitations of the present modes of land acquisition wherein the land owners are ultimate losers in the bargain. It therefore observed that:
In such a situation, the best option is that of land pooling and master planning. Under this model, tried successfully by the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) in its Dholera project in Gujarat, land is acquired from farmers only for developing what is called trunk infrastructure like roads, power plants and the like. The land is then zoned and earmarked for different facilities. Under this proposal, the farmers end up getting back anywhere between 60 and 70% of their land. Since the land is now earmarked for industrial / commercial use, its value goes up and the owners are free to sell or retain it – in other words, should the farmers so choose, they get the upside from their land. Selling even this idea to farmers is not going to be easy, especially in today's surcharged atmosphere, but this offers the best deal for all concerned. (emphasis added).
If it were indeed the ‘best option’, then why did the farmers in Olpad and Mandal-Bechraji SIR areas agitate and get the projects cancelled. As recently as 1st April 2014, the government again announced the Hazira SIR and the farmers of the area met the minister and the same was cancelled the next day, as per the news reports. Of the 14 SIRs that are notified, 3 were cancelled even before the final notification could appear. If it were indeed the ‘best option’ why would the farmers – from Mandal-Bechraji to Dholera – be shouting “SIR Act hatao” (Remove the SIR Act), “Jan denge, jameen nahin” (We may give up our lives, not our land), “Dholera SIR hatao,
Narmada na neer lavd’ (Remove the Dholera SIR, bring the Narmada waters here)?
The phrase ‘best option’, therefore, obviously alludes to the socio-economic class for which it would be the best option. The people of the area certainly do not think so, and they were most definitely not asked their opinion or their preference. Based on our work with the people of the area, the facts stated here do not appear to be true and hence the 2 conclusions viz. it is “the best option" and is “the best deal for all" seem flawed and incorrect, at best. In this context we seek to set the record straight. Let us answer each of the facts presented above in the context of the Dholera SIR (DSIR), since the other three (Olpad, Mandal-Bechraji and Hazira) have been cancelled.
a) “Under this proposal, the farmers end up getting back anywhere between 60 and 70% of their land."
Firstly, as per the Draft Development Report (DDR) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Report the area was found to be suitable due to “availability of maximum government land" (sic) (EIA Report, pp. 13, 57 and 76). Pastureland is to be retained as is owing to the fact that the area may retain its rural character for another 25-30 years and the requirement of pastureland will not cease to exist. However, in this area a very minor portion of the land (around 5%) is declared and recorded as ‘pastureland’. The rest, even if it is pastureland, would be called as wasteland since it is not recorded officially as such in the government revenue records. Therefore, all of the government land and 50% of the privately held agriculture land will be deducted for land pooling purposes at the start of the project. The total land then with the SIR Authority will be more than 50%.
Secondly, we do not see how “60-70% of the land can be returned to the farmers". The land pooling and land deduction happens under the provisions of the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976 (GTPUDA 1976). Section 40 (j) and (jj) (i)-(iv) mentions the purposes for which land allotment for public purposes is to be made, which comes to 50% of the total area of the TP scheme. As per the conversation we had with the Town Planning Officer of the DSIR, we were told that 50% of the total area of the TP Scheme is to be deducted right at the start of the project including the public land (under the jurisdiction of the government) and private land. If this is so, how 60-70% of the farmers’ land can revert back to them defies logic.
b) “Owners are free to sell or retain it – in other words, should the farmers so choose, they get the upside from their land”
Even if the farmers do choose to sell the land, they would have very little choice in the matter. The final plots would be part of various zones like entertainment zone, residential zone, IT zone and such like. The SIR Act specifies that the land has to be used for the designated purpose only. The options before the land owners are therefore very limited, since business lobbies can collectively decide not to go beyond a certain agreed upon price threshold and the owners are then at the mercy of the lobby.
But the farmers of the area do not want to sell their land. They want to continue with their agricultural operations and tilling of the land. Any ‘upside from the land’ is therefore merely notional.
Besides, even if the farmer were to want to continue with agricultural operations (as the Town Planning Officer of DSIR reported to us) it would be unviable since the distance of the fields from his/her house will render it unviable and impossible. Would the farmers have to undergo another expense of installing well, tube well, pipeline etc.?
The SIR Act and its provisions need to be seen in conjunction with two other developments. Appreciating it in this light does make it look like a conspiracy if one were to put oneself in the shoes of the farmers and agriculturalists of the area. At least to us it does.
Decommanding the Narmada command area
The DSIR area is situated on the coast of the Gulf of Cambay. The mainstay of the people here is agriculture which is rain fed, since irrigation facilities are not available. The raison de etre of the Narmada canal was to irrigate the water-starved fields of North Gujarat, Kutch and Saurashtra. The people of the area have been waiting eagerly for the irrigation waters to be able to realise 2-3 crops a year since generations, which is possible since the land is otherwise extremely fertile. The work on the canal network has stopped since 2008 and the non-completion of the branch and sub-branch canals prevents the main canal water from being used for agriculture Meanwhile the government, in 2011, de-commanded this area (removed it from the Narmada command area along with many other like Mandal-Becharaji, Vagra in Bharuch district etc.) which means that the people who had been promised and were waiting for irrigation facilities for the last 40-50 years, have to give up their dreams. They want to continue with agriculture and do not want to become a part of the informal urban labour market which is exactly what the SIR will turn them into. Agriculture for them is still attractive and with irrigation facilities it can become lucrative along with them holding on to their assets. One of the demands of the anti- DSIR agitation, thus, is ‘Narmada na neer lavo’ (Bring Narmada waters here). However, the GoG has accepted that the rural character of the area is going to remain for the coming 20-30 years and hence re-commanded the area again (see FE news report dated 6/5/14).
The Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Act 2013
The other piece in this puzzle is the infamous and now-put-on-hold Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Act 2013, a draconian piece of legislation. The definition of canal in this new act is draconian; all water bodies, rain water nallas and even the roads to and from the canal shall be deemed as canal and all the provision of the Act are applicable for any breach of rule. Some provisions are very hard which prohibit villagers from taking fire wood, grass or grazing their cattle or using them as short cuts. In case of any breach, heavy penalty, up to Rs. 10,000/- and punishment up to 6 month may be imposed. According to the Act a farmer cannot install a borewell in his/her fields without license from government if it is within 200 meters boundary and even cannot deepen it without licence from the canal officer. The amount of water that can be drawn by a farmer would be decided by the government. Even the price of water used in the fields for irrigation would be fixed and government officials would have the authority to file cases against farmers who break the law. The farmers would also need to declare the details of wells and ponds in their fields. This would make farming and agriculture, already suffering from anti-farm sector policies, a herculean task and would deter farmers from pursuing agriculture.
Additionally, the provisions of this Act can be used to ‘fix’ any opposition to government policies, and thus stymie free speech and the right to dissent.
Land pooling / land acquisition – agriculture as a choice is not available
One of the major issues before the people is the lack of choice in the matter of occupation. Whether through ‘land pooling’ or ‘land acquisition’, the land is to be taken over for industrialisation and the option of pursuing agriculture is no longer available to the farmer thereby also depriving them of an option of living autonomously and with dignity. Industrialisation will render agriculture unviable, surrounded as the fields would be with pollutants.
Apart from the above, the situation of the landless will be all the more precarious. The landless agricultural wage workers, apart from working on private fields, also depend heavily on common property resources of wasteland and pastures. If all of this is to be given over to the SIR Authority, then what is to become of these people? The pastoralists and cattle rearers also will be deprived of their sole means of livelihood since most of them would be unskilled to take up any other work that industry has to offer.
At the same time, there is a severe dearth of data as to actual job creation in industry and how many of the agriculture-displaced have been absorbed into industry in their places of original residence, not as migrants in other places.
The people of the 22 villages which fall in the DSIR boundary are angry with the Government of Gujarat’s proposed Dholera SIR (DSIR). They have been agitating, under the banner of Bhal Bachao Samiti, for the last 5 months. They even made representations to the government and the SIR Authority at the Environmental Public Hearing (EPH) held in January this year. Their agitation continues even as the rest of the country mulls their ‘best option’ on their behalf.
I am grateful to Sagar Rabari for his comments on the draft of this article.
Persis Ginwalla is an activist with the Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG), Ahmedabad.
1. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/tp-logistics/dedicated- freight-corridor-on-jnpttughlakhabad-sector-mooted/article2167504.ece
3. See the pap for Proposed Investment Regions and Industrial Areas in the DMIC Region at http://www.ilfsindia.com/downloads/bus_rep/DMIC_brief.pdf
7. http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?485Click here to return to the September 2014 index.