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Many forced to vacate land for Statue of Unity project; Is commemorating Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel by evicting Adivasis justified?

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By Ishan Kukreti

Words like ‘development’ and ‘progress’ go hand in hand with democracy. Geared towards improving the lives of people, development projects are the torchbearers of everything that modern society stands for.

Yet, on closer inspection, nothing can be more un-democratic than what goes in the making of these projects. In the past 50 years, more than 50 million people have been displaced for ‘national interest’, according to a Planning Commission report. Tribals or adivasis, who are a mere 8 per cent of India’s population account for more than 40 per cent of the displaced communities, while Dalits make up the other big chunk of 20 per cent.

The absurd phenomenon of multiple displacement and how it has rendered people homeless over and over again, raises some serious questions. People from Singrauli have faced eviction five times to make way for Rihand dam.

All these facts state the obvious question that whether people have any say in the process of development? At the end of the day who will benefit from the growth and who will have to pay for it?

Unity Project – for the sake of the tourists

The Unity Project in Gujarat, however takes the whole thing to a new dimension. The Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA) created for the implementation of the tourism development plan for the Unity Project will affect around 70 villages in the region. The project includes building a 182 feet tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel along with a 13 Km lake.

Tourism is not a development activity, not in the same way a power plant is. Still, the government is ready to boot people out of their homes for the sake of someone else’s leisure activity. People living for generations on that land have to move out so that some work exhausted urban working couple can come there and relax their bones. The callousness of the government is all too palpable even on the surface.

The region is a tribal agricultural land area. Although there is a provision in the law of safeguarding tribal interests by prohibiting sale of tribal agricultural land to non tribals, but KADA can declare the land non-agricultural, thereby making the transfer smooth.

Moreover the project was approved without obtaining the permission under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification. A group of activists from Gujarat have filed a petition regarding the same with the National Green Tribunal.

Time to relocate?

However, the government is not deterred by any challenge.

For many who are currently residents of the area, eviction seems inevitable. An area of 20 acres has been cordoned off since March, 2015. It is the site for Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan, a complex which will include hotels. The irony of the situation is that the site which will make many homeless, will provide lodging facilities for tourists.

The government is cold and clear about its intentions. People protesting the land acquisition have to face the rough side of law, if it can get anymore rough. The day the foundation stone of the site was laid, Sanjay Tadvi, a farmer from the region and an active protester was locked up for a day without any charges.

Although the government has promised providing land to the displaced, no progress has been made in thist. Plus, the administration will only provide for the loss of agricultural land. For many who earn their livelihood mainly through non agriculture activities, the project is nothing but a mechanism to force them into extreme poverty.

Postscript

The area is prone to high seismic activities and might not be safe for the construction of
large 182 feet structures. Thus, the only thing that can help Narmada district residents win their rights from the Unity Project is the National Green Tribunal.
But whether they win or lose their rights, by taking such a step the government has undoubtedly failed its people.

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Come April, government will be more comfortable in Rajya Sabha

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs

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Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
Parliament of India is a source of interest for many people because of various reasons. Wikimedia Commons
  • In April, the opposition may lose its edge over BJP in Rajya Sabha
  • NDA led by Modi has faced many embarrassments in Rajya Sabha in past few years
  • This is expected to change soon

Come April, the opposition in the Rajya Sabha may lose its edge in the numbers game and the power to stall any government bill, as the ruling BJP-led NDA coalition is set to catch up with its rivals, though a clear majority will elude them for a while more.

BJP to soon get more comfortable in  Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia commons
BJP to soon get more comfortable in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

As 58 MPs, including three Nominated and one Independent, are set to retire in April, the Rajya Sabha math is going to change. It is set to favour the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the trend may continue in the elections to the Upper House later too with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) having solid majorities in a number of state assemblies, especially the ones it won after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

With this, while the Congress-led opposition’s numbers will come down to around 115 from the present 123, the numbers of the BJP, its allies and sympathisers together would climb to around 109 from the present 100-odd members.

And the gap, once wide enough to let the opposition invariably have its say, will keep narrowing further in the coming months.

Of the 55 retiring members (excluding those Nominated), 30 belong to the opposition camp while 24 belong to the BJP and allies. Of them, a large number of NDA candidates are set to return while the opposition will lose a chunk of its members.

As things stand now, the Congress-led opposition has 123 MPs (including 54 of the Congress) in a house of 233 elected members (apart from 12 Nominated), while the NDA has 83 members (including 58 of BJP) plus four Independents who support the BJP (these include MPs Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Subhash Chandra, Sanjay Dattatraya Kakade and Amar Singh).

Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.
Rajya Sabha or the Upper House can often be a game changer while passing of the bills is in process.

Also, for all practical purposes, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that has 13 members in the Rajya Sabha, is also with the NDA. This means the NDA’s effective strength in the upper house of Parliament is 100.

The gap was wider till just a few months ago. This meant that during any battle between the government and the opposition in the Upper House over bills and major issues, it was the opposition that invariably had its way. The recent example was the triple talaq legislation that the opposition stalled in the upper house, demanding that it be referred to a Select Committee.

For over less than four years, the Narendra Modi government had faced quite a few embarrassments in the Rajya Sabha thanks to the majority of the opposition, forcing it often to take the money bill route to avoid a clash in the house. Under the Constitution, a money bill needs to be passed only in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha cannot stall it.

Also Read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

However, after April, the NDA will be in a far better position.

Of the 100 BJP-allies MPs, 24 are retiring. Which means, the government will be left with 76 MPs (including AIADMK). But at least 30 from the NDA are set to get re-elected. So the number will rise to 106. Add three members that the government would nominate to the upper house and the final NDA tally will roughly be 109 MPs.

Further, there are fence-sitters such as the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the YSR Congress, which are not virulently against the BJP and would not oppose the government unless for very compelling reasons.

Now, for the Congress and the rest of the opposition, they are set to lose 30 MPs (including one Independent, A.V. Swamy) through retirement and would be left with around 93 members. The Opposition may win roughly 22 seats, which means that its final tally after April is likely to be around 115 members.

Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.
Government can now expect some smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha, coming this April.

The gap has clearly narrowed and the government may not be at the mercy of the opposition during crucial votes and can have its way in the Rajya Sabha if it musters its numbers by deftly wooing “floater” MPs.

The three newly-elected Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members may remain equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress, though the party is friendly with some of the major opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress.

Also Read: BJP MP Seeks Amendment to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill

In an interesting development recently, the AAP actively participated in the opposition’s walkout and the day-long boycott of the Rajya Sabha over long intra-day adjournments of the Upper House by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The AAP, which was not welcome at any opposition meetings earlier, particularly those held in Parliament House, was invited to speak at a joint opposition media interaction on the day. But nobody can be sure as to how long this bonding would last.

Partywise tally of those retiring in April-May from the opposition’s side include 13 from the Congress, six from the Samajwadi Party, three of the Trinamool Congress, two each of the Nationalist Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal and one each of the CPI-M, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.

NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons
NDA has to face many embarrassments in past few years in Rajya Sabha. Wikimedia Commons

From the ruling side, 17 MPs of the BJP, three of the Janata Dal United, one of the Shiv Sena and two of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are retiring.

In terms of state-wise vacancies to be created in April, the highest number is from Uttar Prdaesh (9), followed by Maharashtra (6), Madhya Pradesh (5), Bihar (5), Gujarat (4), Karnataka (4), West Bengal (4), Rajasthan (3), Odisha (3), Andhra Pradesh (3), Telangana (2), Uttarakhand (1), Himachal Pradesh (1) and Chhattisgarh (1). IANS