Is BJP afraid? Tribal activists detained on National Unity Day in Gujarat

The activists had earlier protested that 1000 of the 1700 acres of land was acquired without the consent of the tribal community

Statue of Unity

The Statue of Unity (SoU) seems to have been gripped in controversy right since its announcement and subsequent inauguration.

In another deplorable and shameless act against the public, ahead of the first anniversary of the inauguration of the statue to be held on October 31, 2019 which also coincides with the 144th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Gujarat the police arrested prominent tribal activists from their homes near the SoU and as far as Surat and Baroda.

The detained activists are Dr Praful Vasava (Rajpipla), Rohit Prajapati (Baroda), Krishnakant (Surat), Shailesh Tadvi (Vagdiya), Gikubhai Tadvi (Shira), Nareshbhai Tadvi (Kevdiya) and Ramkrishna Tadvi (Gora) among others.

The tribals, from the villages of Navagam, Limdi, Gora, Vagadia, Kevadiya and Mithi had earlier protested that the land that was acquired for the Sardar Sarovar Dam project is now being used for the Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan and tourism related projects. Activists say this is in gross violation of Section 24 of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act. Consequently, people are facing the threat of summary eviction.  

In August 2019, environmentalist Mahesh Pandya had filed a PIL in the High Court of Gujarat against the land acquisition in six villages around the Statue of Unity in Narmada district. In his PIL Pandya said the government and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) were set to evict more than 5,000 Adivasis “under the guise of tourism development projects without following due procedure under the Land Acquisition Act”. Furthermore, he said, the authorities were asserting their rights over these lands by claiming that the lands had been acquired in the 1960s itself but since there was no need for the lands then people had been allowed to settle there.

Around 72,000 families had been displaced by the SSP Dam and the SoU project. Villagers detest the so called ‘development’ being brought in the name of tourism.

Speaking to The Quint, Raj Vasava, a tribal activist said that the police would have caught him too had he not been in Maharashtra at the time. He said, “The tribal folk living near the Statue of Unity are being deliberately displaced. The government is putting undue pressure on tribals living in 72 villages in the vicinity of the SoU as they want to start new projects to attract tourists. They have already started a butterfly park, river rafting and not to forget the Rajya Bhavan for each state in the country which will be built in the vicinity of SoU.”

He added, “These areas are protected under the Schedule V of the Constitution of India. The thing is they don’t want to spoil Modi’s image because of our protests. The diktat is to arrest any activist within 200 metres of SoU. But they have gone and arrested activists from their homes which are nearly 20 km away from the site. Couple of the activists hail from Surat and Baroda. What kind of democracy is this?”

The 72 villages around SSP (Garudeshwar taluka) are covered by Schedule V and therefore subject to PESA (Panchyats Extension to Scheduled Area) act, where anything that government seeks to do cannot be without the consent of the village Gramsabha. Yet Aadivasi agriculture, animals, life and livelihood have been wantonly dislocated.

What the government brought in the name of development
Activists have made innumerable accusations of environmental devastation and loss of land and livelihood.

Threat to aquatic life – Only after incessantly landing sea-planes in Lake No. 3, did the government belatedly realize that there were over 300 crocodiles in it.

The ruckus created by hovering helicopters has proved to be a nuisance to the birds, insects and even children. Also, they only later realized that the animals in the park that was set up overnight, would also be disturbed by the copters.

It’s not only people, including hawkers and vendors who have been displaced from the site, it order the chopping of more than 4,000 trees in the area for the widening of a four-lane road.

Standing crops have been destroyed to create parking lots.

None of the jobs promised to tribals have been materialized. In fact, in March, News Click reported that even employees, including, security guards, gardeners, sweepers, liftmen, ticket checkers hadn’t been paid for the past three months.

On the arrests of the activists, in a press note, the Lokshahi Bachavo Abhiyan, that has been one of the activist organizations at the forefront of the protest said, “They have been picked up to suppress the anger of the villagers when Modi arrives on October 31.”

The tribals have declared a National Disaster Day and have hoisted banners that say ‘Your Tourism. Our Destruction’, and ‘Give Us Back Our Lands’, the Frontline reported.

The press note also said that the government had claimed that for every Adivasi losing land, seven individuals would get a job. What happened to that promise?

The Lokshahi Bachavo Abhiyan puts it tersely when it says development for this government means “dispossessing the Adivasis of their jowar and bajra rotla to offer pizza and burger to the wealthy”.

Silencing voices seems to be the go-to strategy of the BJP. From tribals to celebrities, no one has been spared of the tactics that BJP has used to crush dissent.

Also, how ironical is it that ‘Ekta Divas’ or National Unity Day is being celebrated on the day Jammu and Kashmir are being bifurcated?

Gujarat human rights, tribal activists detained ahead of Modi reaching Statue of Unity
Are 1,000/ 1,700 acres ‘acquired’ off Statue of Unity, Narmada dam acquired without Adivasis’ consent?
Interim relief for Gujarat Adivasis as land acquisition stalled near Statue of Unity: Guj HC



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