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.
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.