Asia / Oceania
Gujarat villagers display rare strength of unity against a cement factory
Jun, 06 2012
(India) -- The agitation against the establishment of Nirma plant at the village of Mahuva in the state of Gujarat, India has brought a lone politician and farmers of the region together. In March 2011, Mahuva's BJP MLA Dr. Kanu kalsaria led a 350-km farmers' protest march from Mahuva to Gandhinagar demanding cancellation of land allotted to the Nirma Group.
This plant was to come up in a reservoir at Padhiyarka village. The project would have destroyed a massive wetland that recharges groundwater in over 10 villages and keeps seawater from seeping inland turning fields barren.
"It all started in 2008 when the state allotted 268 hectares of Samdhiyala reservoir and its catchment area to Nirma for a cement plant," recalls Kalsaria.
"The government had created a reservoir, Samdhiyala Bandhara, in 2000, building a dam on river Shensuri that flows through Mahuva. This was to prevent salinity ingress. We opposed the cement plant as it falls within the reservoir and would obstruct the natural drains that supply the reservoir."
Under Kalsaria’s guidance, the local farmers formed the Mahuva Bandhara Khetiwadi Paryavaran Bachav Samiti in 2009. They filed a petition against the cement plant in the Gujarat High Court and then the Supreme Court. The petition challenged the allotment and validity of the environmental clearance.
In December last year, the Union ministry of environment revoked clearance to the cement plant. It also rejected the state government and Nirma's claim that the plant was to come up on wasteland. The ministry also said clearance had been granted on the basis of "undisclosed and incorrect information".
"Our protest is not against development, but the manner in which government imposes development. Farmers fear the impact of mining. People would be forced to migrate in search of livelihood," says Kalsaria.
However, the farmers have had to pay a heavy price for the agitation. Following the protests, funds of Rs 3.7cr INR allocated to build a canal to channel excess water from Malan reservoir to the Samdhiyala reservoir were stopped. Malan's excess water drains into the sea; the canal will ensure this water reaches Samdhiyala.
The Farmers have now pooled in their own resources to build the canal, contributing Rs 1,000 per bigha.
"When it is completed, 15 villages will have water for irrigation," says Kalsaria.
"With the additional water, farmers can grow three crops a year. We want water for irrigation and power, not a cement plant," says a villager. "Government policies are anti-farmer. Instead of making reservoirs, it is giving land to industries," adds Kalsaria. "Once farmland turns saline, farmers will sell their land in distress. This will help industry."
By: Rashmi Kalia (ARI-C NEWS)
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