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Tear gas shells fired, lathi charged injuring at least 10, 50 protestors detained; read several headlines from news stories coming from Gujarat.

On Sunday, thousands of farmers had gathered at Padva and Baandi villages to protest against a proposed lignite plant. The farmers began their agitation against the state government as Gujarat Power Corporation Limited (GPCL) tried to take possession of the land it acquired 20 years ago.

At Baandi village police started lathi charge against the protestor to disperse them. DNA quoted Bhavnagar Superintendent of Police Pravin Mal, “Police had to charge batons and use tear gas shells to control the crowd.”

But contrary to the claims of the police, farmers said that they had been protesting peacefully. Narendrasinh Gohil, member of Gujarat Khedut Samaj was quoted by PTI saying, “As we carried out a peaceful protest march against the company’s move to take possession of our land, a large number of policemen were deployed to prevent us,”

  • Injured protestor in Bhavnagar
  • Photo: Hind Kisan/Anil Vanraj

While speaking to HindKisan Gujarat Congress President Amit Chavda accussed that the police brutally carried out lathi charge on the instructions of the BJP government. He said, ” After acquiring the land 20 years ago, the government did not do anything and farmers continued to cultivate the land. When the farmers demanded their rights as per the Land Acquisition Act 2103, the government, instead of listening to farmers, resorted to use force.”

“We will take the issue in the assembly and we will seek answer from the government for the supression” the leader further added.

Farmers allege that the company had not taken possession of the land they sold two decades ago and demanded the company to initiate new acquisition proceedings as per provision of Land Acquisition Act, 2013. The Act prescribes that an agency or entity has to initiate fresh proceedings to acquire a plot if the agency did not take the possession of the land for more than five years.

In December 2017, the farmers have appealed in the Gujarat High Court against the GPCL and pleaded the court that the land acquired by the company was ineffective as the company had not taken possession of the land.

Protesting farmers criticized the company and questioned why is it in a hurry to take the possession even as the case is pending in the Gujarat High Court.

It was only in September last year that the state government appointed mine-developer-cum operator (MDO) for mining in the three sites and the accordingly the GPCL granted the MDO the work. Earlier, the MDO announced that it would start the mining work by April 1. But the agency allegedly mobilised earth-moving machines under police protection before the announced date.

Farmers who denied to part with their land started protesting and clashed with police. Many including women and children sustained injuries while the police detained at least 50 protesting farmers.

However, in a press conference the District Collector Harshad Patel termed the farmers’ protest unfounded. “GPCL and BECL (Bhavnagar Energy Company Limited) are government companies and the lignite proposed to be mined from the said site is to be used by BECL plant for generating electricit…. so, the projects are for larger public good and they will also generate employment opportunities. So far the issue of land is concerned, the GPCL had done demarcation, prepared map and thus had already taken possession of land. It was only that the company had allowed some people to continue to stay on the land till the time actual mining activity started. But this does not mean it had not claimed possession of land,” he was quoted by the Indian Express.

Distressed farmers

The latest protest by the farmers of the state comes close on the heels of protests demanding complete loan waiver and adequate supply of drinking water and water for irrigation.

The state’s farmers are bearing a burden of an estimated loan of Rs 70,000 crore as the farming community have been suffering production as well price losses.

Kshatriya Thakor Sena and OBC leader Alpesh Thakur claimed that out of 63 lakh farmers 40 lakh are indebted in the state.

Another major worry for the farmers of the state is severe shortage of water for both drinking and irrigation.

The severity of the water crisis can be ascertained by the fact that the water level in the Sardar Sarovar dam, which is the main water reservoir of Gujarat, decreased by 45 percent. With government’s under preparedness around 4,238 out of 18,000 villages in the state are facing a scary situation as the water resources either have gone dry or are about to go dry.

While commenting on water crisis in the state, the Congress blamed the BJP for the situation. the Congress president said, “For its wanton publicity stunt before the elections the BJP used the reserved water. Narmada had enough water reserved in it, but the BJP used it unnecessarily which resulted in the severe crisis.”

  • Narmada river at Sardar Sarovar dam
  • Photo: Wiki Commons

Narmada’s water shortage will have a devastating effect on residents of 10,000 villages and 165 towns and cities in the state.

The areas of central Gujarat and drought-prone areas of Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat regions are the worst hit areas. Farmers in these regions are set to confront severe water crisis.

The Hindu reported, “In all other 203 dams and reservoirs across the State, the water level is less than 40%, and will dry up rapidly as summer peaks. A look at the region-wise figures of water storage available in the State’s dams: 15 dams in north Gujarat have 714.95 mcm (million cubic meter) storage, which is 37.15%. In 138 dams and water bodies in Saurashtra, only 656.97 mcm water is stored, which is just 25.93 %.

The state of agriculture in Gujarat has been flubbed by farmers’ suicides. Over the last 17 years more than 10,000 farmers committed suicide. ` 2013 and 2015, as many as 1,483 farmers had committed suicides in Gujarat.

Marred by farm loan and water shortage among other worries, farmers in the Bhavnagar continue to demand their rights and implementation of Land Acquisition Act 2013 for parting with their land.

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