Farmers from Bhavnagar region in Gujarat are protesting against land acquisition. The protests began in December 2017 when Gujarat Thermal Power Corporation decided to take physical possession of 3,377 acres of land which the government had acquired, on paper, in the 1990s. Since December, the matter has escalated to such an extent that 5229 farmers, along with their families, have sent a petition to the government requesting to be euthanised as a last resort.
While talking to The Logical Indian, Narendrasinh Gohil, a local farmer, said, “We don’t want to kill ourselves. This land acquisition is like a disease which can’t be cured. So, we have requested the government to take our lives along with our land.”
In 2016, Gujarat passed ‘Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Bill 2016.’ Narendrasinh Gohil points out that as per Gujarat’s and the centre’s land acquisition act, this land under contention should be legally given back to the farmers. His argument is based on section 24(2) of the land acquisition act which says, inter-alia, if land has been acquired five years or more, prior to the commencement of this act, and if physical possession has not yet been taken then the land acquisition is said to have been lapsed.
Gohil, 38, is the ‘Ghogha taluka pramukh’ of ‘Khedut Samaj.’ Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a non-political, and non-violent NGO, was established in 1972 to act as the voice of farmers. Gohil says, “section 144 was imposed for the last 40-45 days. We are waiting for the government to respond to our euthanasia request which we had given to the Bhavnagar collector on April 24. We also sent it to anyone who we thought could help, including the Gujarat CM, PM Modi and the President of India. Till now, there has been no response from anywhere.”
In 1993-1994, the land acquisition process was initiated in the Bhavnagar district. 3,377 acres of farmland, grazing pastures and wasteland was acquired from 12 villages of Ghogha Taluka in the district. The consent accord was approved in 1997, and compensation based on the then circle rates, Rs 48,000/hectare for non-irrigated land and Rs 72,000/hectare for irrigated land, was awarded.
Gujarat Thermal Power Corporation (GPCL) was supposed to build a thermal power plant, prepare an ash dumping area, construct a colony and mine for coal (lignite) in the area, starting from the year 2000. But it was only in 2017, more than 20 years since the land was acquired on paper, that GPCL moved in to take the physical possession of land.
Farmers unite to fight it legally and through peaceful protests
Gohil told The Logical Indian, “more than a source of our livelihood, land is the source of our identity. Our land was taken from us by the government in a legal but forced manner in the 1990s. If work had started, as planned, in 2000, we would have had no reasonable argument to put forward, but according to the land acquisition law in 2013, this land belongs to us farmers.”
“We have been protesting for almost six months now but no government representative has come to discuss this issue with us. Are we supposed to be threatened by the police and administration, and just hand away our land?” he further added.
As reported by The Wire, Vasudevsinh, a farmer from Badi village, said, “On December 20 last year, the collector of Bhavnagar, contractors and officials representing GPCL, and about 100 police personnel came to Badi to proceed with the physical possession of the land.”
On December 23, about 5000-7000 locals assembled in Surkha village and sat on a ‘dharna.’ A 45-day grace period agreement was reached after the administration promised a meeting between GPCL officials and the farmers. The police, however, filed FIRs against several farmers on both days but no arrests were made.
In January 2018, a group of 30-35 villagers went to meet the collector of Bhavnagar. “The SP and collector threatened us. We were told to not protest in the future, or else FIRs with far more serious offences would be slapped on us,” Pravinsinh Gohil of Khadsaliya village said to The Wire.
The collector of Bhavnagar, Harshad Patel, said, “The land had been acquired years ago and the government is the rightful owner of the land. Everyone knows that. Now, when the time has come to implement the project, people with vested interest are interrupting.”
Fearing the worst, farmers decided to approach the Gujarat High Court. The court date was set for February 15. As reported by The Wire, farmer Kanaksinh said, “Most of us had never seen a police station before. On February 13 and 14, about 10-12 police vehicles did rounds of the 12 villages. On February 15 there were about 1,000-1,200 police personnel in the village. Our men have FIRs against them. We are farmers, this is scary for us. Our women are scared to go to field to farm and our children are afraid to go to school.” Gujarat High Court is yet to give the next date for the hearing.
Krupa, 18, from Malekvadar village told The Wire, “Ever since we have been protesting against GPCL, our lives have been turned upside down. Villagers who never had to deal with the police all their lives are now living with hundreds of police personnel. Women and children have also joined the protest, because if they take away our land we have no source of livelihood.”
“On April 1, male police hit women who were protesting. I was hit on the head and had to get five stitches. I could not sit for one paper of the semester examinations. It still hurts,” adds Krupa, who travels 25 km daily from her village to Bhavnagar town for college.
Gohil claims, “In the first week of April, we held a ‘rose flower dharna’ to protest against the land acquisition. We are committed to the Gandhian philosophy of ‘non-violence’, so around 1200-1500 children, women and men took flowers, mostly roses, as a sign of both our pain and our approach. However, close to 100 police personnel retaliated with tear gas and lathi-charge. Many of us got injured; many, including women, were also detained but let go in the evening.”
He added, “We have tried every legal and peaceful option. Even according to law this land belongs to us. Our women and children are scared. Our villages have become police compounds. We have written to the PM and the President as well. Threats, FIRs, tear gas and lathi charge have all been used against us.”
Development-induced displacement is a moral dilemma where the interest of the nation, as a whole, clashes with the petitions of those being forced to let go of their homes and/or land in the name of development. Estimates show that just in the first 50 years of independence, more than 50 million Indians were displaced in the name of ‘national interest’, most without proper resettlement and rehabilitation. This number is only expected to grow.
As reported by The Wire, advocate Anand Yagnik who has been fighting land acquisition cases, including on behalf of the Bhavnagar farmers, said, “Apart from Bhavnagar, farmers are also protesting in Anand, Nadiad, Navsari and Bharuch. The issue of land grab for aggressive industrialisation isn’t confined to the 12 villages of Bhavnagar. Land has been taken for expansion of National Highway 8 between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, for pipeline laying by Reliance and ONGC, for the bullet train and by GPCL. There has to be a limit to land acquisition.” He adds, “Not a single district has been spared between Mumbai and Ahmedabad where the government has either decided to acquire land or has already acquired for some project or the other.”