The 182-metre-tall Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel‘s “Statue of Unity” in Gujarat is facing resistance from tribals living in more than 70 villages around the site near the Narmada dam where the statue is proposed to be built.Over 2,000 tribals gathered at Indravarna village in Nandod taluka of the tribal dominated Narmada district on Wednesday to register their protest against the government’s proposal to acquire land for the development of the area for tourism purposes.
The Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA) — established in 2005 to develop the region mainly with the focus on improving tourism infrastructure — had sought consent from the village panchayats of 54 villages earlier this year to acquire land. As many as 29 of these villages fall under protected forest area.
“The KADA has asked the village panchayats to part with their land. It has stated that if they do not respond in time, they’d consider it as their consent and take away the land. Most gram panchayats have said ‘no’, and have said they’d rather seek development under the provisions of the gram panchayat and not town planning,” said Lakhibhai Musafir, a member of the KADA Virodh Manch, which is leading the protest against Chief Minister Narendra Modi‘s dream project.
KADA plans to develop the area under town planning scheme so it could pave way to set up infrastructure such as hotels, camping ground, trekking trails, resort, water park, golf course, among others, in order to give boost to tourism in the region. The project has been expedited as the proposed “Statue of Unity” is expected to draw a large number of tourists in the region.
The construction of the statue, coming up at Sadhu Tekri, around 3.2 kilometres downstream from the dam, is expected to begin by early 2014 and will take four years to complete. However, the KADA proposal has met with resistance from the tribal villagers who do not seem to be in the mood to part with their land.
Vikram Tadvi, a protester from Kevadia village, said giving land to the government was not a good idea specially when the state government was yet to properly compensate to farmers in 16 villages that were submerged in water following the construction of the Narmada dam.
“Villagers are yet to get right compensation for their loss, and now the government wants more land for development. We do not think we can be rightly compensated for their land. And where will they earn their livelihood once their land is taken away from them?” he asked.
Protesting tribals shouted, “jaan denge, jameen nahi (we will give our life, but not our land)”, “jameen rotlo aape chhe (we get food from our land)”, “amaro gaam, amaro raaj (our village, our rule),” “vikas joiye chhe na ki vinas (we need development and not destruction)”, among others, to register their protest against the move of the KADA to acquire land.
KADA Chief Executive Officer D B Rahewar said that his office has so far only asked consent from 54 villages to acquire their land for town development purpose, and the process was still at initial stage.
“We have added 54 more villages under our scheme and have sought consent from the panchayat but are yet to get their consent. We intend to develop the area under town planning scheme. The systemic development of the basic infrastructure in the region will be meant for mass service,” he said.