Interim relief for Gujarat Adivasis as land acquisition stalled near Statue of Unity: Guj HC

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: July 27, 2019

Gujarat HC asks govt. to maintain ‘status quo’ instructing it not to go ahead with land acquisition, the HC also served notices to the govt. and SSNL

Statue of Unity

The Gujarat High Court has ordered ‘status quo’ on the matter of acquisition of land near the controversial Statue of Unity in Narmada district. The land is reportedly being acquired for tourism projects. While giving its order, the HC asked the state government not to evict anyone till further notice.

The HC was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the ongoing land acquisition process in six villages situated close to the 182 metre tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel at Kevadiya near the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The impacted villages are Kevadiya, Vagadiya, Navagam, Limbdi, Kothi and Gora.

The HC also served notices to the Gujarat government and Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) apart from asking it not to go ahead with the land acquisition.

A city based environmental activist Mahesh Pandya had filed the PIL in which he alleged that the government and SSNNL want to evict around 5000 Adivasis “under the guise of tourism development projects without following due procedure under the Land Acquisition Act”.

In the PIL, he also mentioned that the government has been claiming that the land in question was already acquired in 1960s. However, its actual possession remained with the villagers as the authorities never utilised that land. Since the land hadn’t been acquired so far, the authority of the govt. to acquire it had lapsed, said the PIL.

Now, the government and SSNNL have started the process of taking the actual possession, claiming the land in question was already acquired and the villagers have to shift elsewhere, said the PIL.

Pandya also argued in the petition that the respondents have large tracts of unused land at all such villages but they want the tribals to shift elsewhere. He said that once the acquisition has lapsed, the respondents have no right, title, or interest in the land in question.

The petition added, "The proceedings of the land acquisition lapsed long back and the respondents cannot claim to evict these villagers from different parcels of land which, though shown in the name of SSNNL or government, are in actual and physical possession of the tribal villagers," it added.

The structure, built at an exorbitant Rs. 2989 crore is one of the most ambitious projects of the Gujarat government supposedly “to attract tourists”. The statue overlooks the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river.  It has attracted widespread criticisms from activists for its environmental oversight and its displacement of the local Adivasis. The land on which the statue is built was already forcibly taken away from Adivasis in the first place. Apart from the colossal wastage of money to build the structure, it has also been criticised for its design and intent.

One of the other intentions behind the statue is to promote the figure of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as a symbol on “Indian Nationalism” and free market development. Though it was supposed to be built with private and public money, the state of Gujarat ended up paying most of the US$416.67 million price tag

The Gujarat government had claimed that the investment in the statue was supposed to promote tourism, and that tourism is “sustainable development”, a concocted logic in itself, it has turned out far from it. The UN says that sustainable tourism increases environmental outcomes and promotes local cultures. However, since the statue has been created, it has served neither of these purposes. Instead there has been a huge influx of tourists without any checks and balances on how it is impacting the delicate environment around it.

The structure of the statue itself has invited a lot of criticism. It has used some 5000 tonnes of iron, 75000 cubic metres of concrete, 5700 tonnes of steel and 22500 tonnes of bronze sheets and funnily, this symbol of “Indian Nationalism” has been made by a Chinese architect and the bronze sheeting was put in place by Chinese labour.

The statue’s position next to the controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam is also telling. While chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, Modi pushed for the dam’s construction despite the World Bank’s condemnation. He praised the dam’s completion in 2017 as a monument to India’s progress.

Further hearing would be held on August 21.