Narendra Modi‘s decision to set up SIRs receives disapproval from farmers
For many decades the sleepy town of Becharaji in Gujarat’s Mehsana district was known only for its temple dedicated to Bahuchara Mata. However, it is the local farmers who’re hogging the headlines now.
They are protesting the Gujarat government’s move to convert cultivable land into a ‘special investment region’ (SIR). The 630-sq-km Mandal-Becharaji SIR, a proposed textile and automobile hub, will house India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki. Its plant will be spread over 647 acres in Hansalpur village.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has assured farmers that his government would take them into confidence before a decision is taken on August 15. He has formed a committee that includes four of his ministers and chief secretary AK Sharma to strike a consensus with farmers in Becharaji.
Modi, who drew global attention by attracting Ratan Tata to set up shop to manufacture the world’s cheapest car in Gujarat, is himself facing a Singur-like movement against at least half a dozen projects. Not just big-ticket SIR projects, people are against land acquisition for even Raksha Shakti University in Dehgam. The state government is non-committal on the unrest at Becharaji.
“The CM has promised that those who want to continue farming will not be disturbed. Others who want to sell their land to industries are free to do so,” says energy and petrochemicals minister Saurabh Dalal, who is one of the four cabinet ministers in the panel set up to deal with the Becharaji issue.
PROTESTS GROW LOUDER
Meanwhile, social activists and farmers’ organisations are not willing to give up their agitation. In fact, they have devised novel methods of protest, including dunking a Maruti car at the proposed Maruti plant site. They are also asking parents not to send their children to state-sponsored programmes marking Independence Day. “People are fighting against forced land acquisitions in over a dozen places in Gujarat.
It is time for us to join hands to strengthen our movement,” says Lalji Desai whose voluntary initiative Maldhari Rural Action Group is leading a movement in Becharaji. Activists opposing a host of projects including the Hazira SIR, the 6,000-mw nuclear power project in Mithivirdi and Nirma’s cement plant in Mahuva have lent their support to Becharaji farmers.
Led by former MLA Kanubhai Kalasaria who left BJP due to differences with Modi, the Gujarat Khedut Samaj (GKS) representatives too will participate in Independence Day protests in Becharaji. Modi has a lot to worry. First is his image of a proindustry leader. His government had announced plans to set up at least a dozen SIRs with a minimum area of 100 sq km. The fact that the farmers’ agitation is being held in his home district of Mehsana hasn’t helped matters. The bigger worry is that the agitations may spread and also translate into a protest against the SIR Act 2009. The Act makes it easier for the government to acquire land from farmers. Protests in south Gujarat have already compelled Modi to go on the back foot and put plans for Hazira SIR on hold in 2010.
A small matter of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an RSS affiliate, making pro-farmer noises has added to the deepening gloom. GKS general secretary Jayesh Patel who led the movement against the government decision to set up the Hazira SIR says that the SIR Act is an unparallel law that replaces the district collector with development authority in the earmarked area.