The exodus for them is still on. Hundreds of tribals living around the controversial Narmada dam site in Gujarat may have to give up their lands yet again - this time for an eco-tourism project. The eco-tourism plan was meant to help the government raise finances for the dam project, which has seen huge cost overruns. There are six villages around the dam site - Kevadia, Kothi, Waghodia, Navagam, Limdi and Gora - where tribals have been residing for generations. All these will be affected by the eco-tourism project.

The government had earlier acquired land in these six villages for construction of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) Colony to house personnel working on the dam. On May 5th 2005, in Kevadia on the banks of the Narmada River, two houses belonging to Natwarbhai Bhaiji Tadvi and Chandubhai Maganbhai Tadvi were demolished with bulldozers in broad daylight. The houses, also used as small shops, serving all the officials and labourers of Sardar Sarovar, were on the land that once belonged to Natwarbhai. Both of them adivasis – original inhabitants of Kevadia – were ousted from their land and houses in 1961 when their lands along with standing crops were acquisitioned. The people in the six villages around the dam site- Kevadia, Kothi, Waghodia, Navagam, Limdi and Gora- are residing on those lands since generations. Their lands and houses were acquisitioned for the project colony as early as 1961-63 by giving a measly Rs. 80 to 250 per acre, but they were never recognized as project-affected persons.

In fact, the World Bank’s 1985 Project Appraisal Report, on Sardar Sarovar prepared before granting of the loan stated that the people of the six villages fall in the category of oustees since they are “displaced from their ‘usual habitat due to the carrying out of the Project.’” Hence it is clear that these families, who numbered 300+ at the time, and number about 900 now, must be treated as other oustees and must be given all the entitlements that are awarded to other oustees.

But all oral promises came out to be false and unfulfilled. All of the families indeed received the wrath of the government, including attacks by dam builders. These bold leaders were beaten, arrested, harassed time and again, but through their struggle and determination, they could somehow hold on to their houses and some small plots of agricultural land. They are now being asked to leave their homes and hearths, their generations-old lands to make way for a profit-making “eco-tourism” venture. As news reports suggest, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) at the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad, has been assigned the work of planning an eco-tourism project at the site.

The people have now been offered Rs. 36,000 apparently meant to buy 3 acres of agricultural land. This is just the amount offered since 1992 with no increase. It is a well-known fact that land market value in the area today begins from Rs. 60,000 per acre. This Rs. 36,000 was the same amount offered in 1992, when the Morse Committee and the World Bank’s pressure had compelled the Government of Gujarat to give some compensation. Most of the families in the six villages refuse to accept the meagre dole being handed out to them. They assert their right to be recognized as project-affected persons and to get the same benefits as any other family losing land to reservoir (another part of the project).

The recent assault is a part of another game that has just begun- that of eco-tourism. The corporate stakeholders of the project are being declared, one after another. The latest information is that a Mauritius based water sports agency, Indian Tourism development Corporation, BICL, a Mumbai based infrastructure development company, owners of 3 water parks in Gujarat, Baroda based Surya Palace (Hotelier) and probably, the Sahara Group are involved. The project costing 170 crores, on 1400 hectares of land, is to be contracted by October end, as is claimed! A total callousness towards a few thousand adivasis living there for generations. The managing director of the SSNL (The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd), S K Mahapatra, was reported to have said, “The Nigam has worked out 11 packages to be proposed in the first phase of the project. This includes water parks, hotels, golf courses, a botanical garden with cottages and camping facilities, theme parks with cottages and trekking facilities, cottages near wildlife reserves, boating decks, a restaurant and visitor centres.” Press reports, the only source of information, claimed that the project will not involve building of any structures, in order to preserve the ecology, yet it doesn’t talk of about 900 families on 1400 hectares of land who will be evicted and the structures that will be demolished.

The Gujarat government has, till date, diverted a part of the vacant, unused (for the Sardar Sarovar Project) land to different agencies such as Swami Narayan Trust (about 10 acres of Kevadia village land), for Shulpaneshwar Temple Trust (about 10 acres of Gora village land), for a company (few acres) of Navagam land, to the Dept of Forests (40 acres of Navagam village land). This is illegal, unjust and betraying the people in the name of ‘public interest’. In 1999-2000, the people approached the Grievances Redressal Authority (GRA) in Ahmedabad and got a stay order against the government diverting their extra lands acquired but not used for the project, which is about 200+ hectares, GRA in 2000 had promised the villagers & NBA that it would compel the SSNNL & Punarvasavat (rehabilitation) Agency to develop a rehabilitation action plan for the people in these six villages. However, four years since then nothing has happened but for the pushing ahead of the tourism project.

Also tourism is not the ‘public purpose’ for which their lands were acquisitioned. While now the balance land – a few hundred hectares, still in their possession is going to be a part of the total area (1400 hectares) to be used for the Tourism Project, the government should have issued fresh notice for acquisition giving the original land owners information as the new plan and a chance to be heard. This has not been done by the state government who have proceeded in their matter, secretively and illegally, both.

The Parliamentary Committee on Welfare of SC/ST, Ministry of Welfare, also had in its 59th report on ‘Rehabilitation of Displaced Tribals by Major projects of Madhya Pradesh’ had clearly recommended that “the surplus land of tribals compulsorily acquisitioned and lying idle with the acquiring body be returned back to the original land owners”.

‘Fertility – Sow a rupee, reap a dollar’ – Many incentives for the industry

This slogan is from the ‘Industrial policy Gujarat 2003’ shows the attitude of the government towards the foreign investments and tourism projects. As per the ‘Gujarat Tourism Policy 2003’, govt. will declare tourism as industry. So that tourism projects in the state will also eligible for the incentives and sops mentioned in the industrial policy. According to the tourism policy Gujarat government will also declare tourism as an industry. This will enable the tourism projects to be reliable to get benefits such as facilitation of land for the projects concerning setting up of hotels, restaurants and apartment hotels etc. Existing arrangements for grant of government waste land to industrial units will be made applicable to various tourism projects. Arrangements will be made to acquire private land under Land Acquisition Act for various tourism projects by companies registered under the Companies Act.

Conclusion

It is reported that the project includes water parks, hotels, golf courses, a botanical garden with cottages and camping facilities, theme parks with cottages and trekking facilities, cottages near wildlife reserves, boating decks, a restaurant and visitor centres. The plan for the project, that’s expected to be completed within the next three years, was developed by Ahmedabad’s renowned Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT). A note on the SSNL website (http://www.sardarsarovardam.org) makes amusing reading. It even has a definition for what it calls ‘eco-tourism’ that will be developed at the dam site. “Eco-tourism,” the note reads, “is conceptually a purposeful travel to natural areas with an emphasis on understanding the culture and natural history of the environment, taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem, while providing economic opportunities that make the conservation of natural resources beneficial to the inhabitants of the host region. This concept of eco-tourism is being developed at Kevadia on a scientifically-based approach for the planning, management and development of sustainable tourism products and activities. Eco-tourism will attempt to present the dam site in its pristine and natural glory, with nature parks, planned gardens, woodlots, nature trails, an eco-museum and a panoramic view of the hills which will captivate the tourist and hold him in awe of the benefits provided by the project.” It might be significant to ask here, will the project educate the tourist about the struggles of the adivasis for sustaining their livelihood and land? Will the project educate the visitor about the submerging culture, history and the livelihood of the people?

The project planning is non-transparent and has not taken into account of people’s opinion and ground level situation at all. The Gujarat government not discussed the matter with the PAFs (Project Affected Families) and NBA (Narmada Bachao Andolan) before announcing such a destructive project, but rather has preferred to destroy the houses and trying to evict the people from their land and livelihood again. It’s obvious that the land belongs to the people and should go back to them, not to tourism, the place of adobe for those who can afford to enjoy it, at the cost of adivasis life and livelihood.

The question arises where and what mode this project is staying aside the culture of the natural habitat as the same is to mop up the community and thus its culture and civilisation. It might be significant to ask here, will the project educate the tourist about the decade long struggles of the adivasis for sustaining their livelihood and land? As an ultimate say, will it be wrong to conclude with a note of fear: isn’t the commercial economy swallowing the basic right to live and to a roof to sleep under?

We at KABANI – the other direction, strongly feel it as the need of the hour that our basic feeling of humanity is provoked. The project which ought to be under the label of so called ‘public interest’ now raises the question: don’t the thousand people affected belong to ‘the public’? Or rather, who is the public – the big playing tour giants or poor adivasis? We’ll have to answer …

We strongly appeal for responsible attention and reaction of the civil society movements and responsible citizens towards this decades long injustice which still continues.

About KABANI

KABANI – “The Other Direction” is a non-profit organisation initiated by a group of young people in Wayanad district of Kerala state in India. Our prime objectives are sustainable socio-economic development of local communities and conservation of natural resources. We are in search for new alternative models in tourism, which can minimise the negative impacts of tourism and increase the benefits of tourism to local communities.

KABANI, the other direction,

‘Thottamariyil’, P.O. Meenangadi, Wayanad, Kerala, India. Phone (Mobile):09447887396

Email:kabanitour@yahoo.com www.kabani.org (external link)

Request to upload this article received from Paul Gonsalves, an activist with tourism related issues on October 17 2005.


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