“First the government took land from our ancestors, now they have taken our land too. We were shown dreams of employment, snatched our stalls. Land gone, house gone and now employment too gone. When we take our herd to graze, our cows are locked up slapping penalties of Rs 300. Where do we go? We will die in the shadow of this statue”.
These are the words of Jitendra Tadvi, a tribal in Gujarat’s Narmada district. The land acquired for Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity belonged to Jitendra’s father Jeevan Tadvi. Tadvi’s land and ancestral house were taken away for Sardar Sarovar dam. The piece of land given to Tadvi in lieu of that was again taken away years later to build Sardar Patel statue.
Jitendra started a tea stall near Narmada dam as he was helped to buy tea stall under Van bandhu yojana. When Sardar Patel’s statue of unity project began, Jitendra had to vacate the tea stall and move to a location away. When the government decided to beautify the area surrounding statue, all the stalls and tapris were removed. Once again Jitendra’s lifeline was destroyed. Meanwhile ‘Shresth Bharat Bhavan’ building project began and Tadvi’s last piece of farmland was acquired for it.
Jitendra Tadvi said:” When I got a stall to sell tea under Van bandhu yojana, I thought the good karma of ancestral land taken from my father paid us in form of this help. My father told us that we are giving our land away for the benefit of large population as water from Narmada dam will benefit many. But he was proven wrong”
“I was given a piece of land 50 kms away from Kevadia. But when statue of unity project took the land given to us as compensation too. Besides, the crop was destroyed when the land around statue was filled with water in the dam. Entire harvest was submerged to make the statue look beautiful”.
“Now the land around the statue is being developed to make parks and hotels for which all the stalls are removed, land acquired again leaving us without any means of earning. Our survival is impossible now”.
I used to sell tea, cattle grazing would give me milk and I could educate my children to make their future secure. Now we have nothing to live on as cattle grazing too is not allowed and if we attempt, we have to pay fine of Rs 300 each time. Vehicles to catch cattle have been brought specially from Vadodara”
“We are starving for last two months but there is no one to help us”
Tribal activist Praful Vasava says:” Changes in Sardar Sarovar dam project spared 6 villages around Kevadia and tribals living there got some respite from rehabilitation. But Statue of Unity project took that away too”
Disregarding Gram Panchayat, even grazing land is acquired and farms have been bulldozed to make car parking lots. The 6 villages spared earlier have now been acquired to make Tiger park, Safari park. Tribals were told earlier that the ‘Panchayat Extension Schedule Act’ is in place so tribal rights will be protected. But in reality, even grazing land is snatched away and trees have been culled in huge numbers to develop project. Tribals approached Gujarat High Court too and got stay order. But the government has disregarded that too to build Haryana Bhavan as well as park. No local tribals got the benefit of temporary employment too as skilled labourers were brought from outside by contractors.
Former BJP CM of Gujarat Suresh Mehta terms this entire Statue of Unity project as na example of authoritarianism. Mehta alleges this project is used as a pretext to destroy tribals. Modi had announced Sardar Patel statue in 2010 as a landmark of completing 10 years as CM. State government did not have money to fund the project so iron donation initiative was launched across the country. But even that initiative needed funds which was an issue. So Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Integration Trust was made and 36 offices were opened across India. Government allocated funds to this trust making Sardar Sarovar Corporation Chairman a trustee and subsequently diverting Sardar Sarovar Corporation funds to the trust.
When Sardar Patel statue project was launched, tribals were removed from there giving them stalls under Van Bandhu Yojana. CSR money aggregated from corporates funded the project. To show the mammoth cost of the project is generating revenue, Rd 6 crores is shown as income in the first year. In reality a total of 1200 acres land has been acquired unethically and illegally despite High Court’s stay order.
The tribals have no one to protect them and fight for injustice apart from a handful of activists who are easily being crushed by the mighty government machinery labelling them as anti Gujarat forces.
For now there is no future of displaced tribals in and around Statue of Unity.