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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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Statue-of-unity(1)

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.

Next Story

Sri Lanka to Reduce Airline Charges to Help Tourism Industry

The government currently predicts $3.7 billion in revenue from tourism this year, down from an initial forecast of $5 billion

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Buddhist monks take part in a prayer ceremony at a buddhist temple for the victims, three days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 24, 2019. VOA

Sri Lanka’s government announced Tuesday it will reduce ground handling charges for airlines and slash aviation fuel prices and embarkation fees to help the country’s vital tourism industry recover after Easter suicide bombings killed more than 250 people.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said the decision will lead to an increase in flights to Sri Lanka and a reduction in ticket prices, which will attract more tourists to the Indian Ocean island nation, famed for its pristine beaches.

Seven suicide bombers from a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jammath, attacked three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the U.S. and Britain. Tourist arrivals declined 57% in June from a year earlier, dealing a severe blow to the tourism industry, the country’s third-largest foreign currency earner after remittances from overseas workers and textile and garment exports.

sri lanka, tourism
Kandy Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka. Wikimedia Commons

The cuts in charges and fees will be in place for six months, said Johanne Jayaratne, head of the government’s tourism development agency. About 2.3 million tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2018, when 29 airlines offered 300 flights per week. After the April 21 attacks, 41 fights per week were canceled, amounting to a loss of 8,000 passenger seats. Several airlines have reinstated their normal schedules since then, but others have not.

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Dimuthu Tennakoon, chairman of the Board of Airline Representatives, said the government decision will encourage airlines to increase their capacity and offer attractive fares.
“That will definitely happen with this reduction because fuel and ground handling contribute a significant percentage of the total cost element of any airline,” he said.

Tourism accounts for 4.9% of Sri Lanka’s GDP. Around half a million Sri Lankans depend directly on tourism and 2 million indirectly. The government currently predicts $3.7 billion in revenue from tourism this year, down from an initial forecast of $5 billion. (VOA)