This article appeared on Prolefeed Dissident.
Farmers protesting Nirma Factory and Limestone Quarry in Mahuva detained; Chunibhai Vaidya, Veteran Gandhian, Kanubhai Kalsaria, MLA and SanatBhai Mehta, ex Finance Minister among those detained
Over five thousand farmers from the Mahuva area in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat have been detained and prohibited from taking out a peaceful rally protesting the government’s sanction for a Nirma factory and limestone quarry in their area. Chunibhai Vaidya, a veteran Gandhian who founded Gujarat Loksamiti, Kanubhai Kalsaria, MLA of Mahuva, and Sanatbhai Mehta, ex Finance Minister of Gujarat, Ilaben Pathak of AWAG and a senior editor Prakash N Shah are among those detained by the police in this illegal suppression of collective democratic rights.
The farmers were enroute to the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, from where they intended to start a peaceful march to Gandhinagar to submit their petition, signed by 11,111 affected individuals in their own blood, when the buses and other vehicles they were using were stopped by the police. The farmers have been taken to Shahibagh in Ahmedabad and have been detained in police grounds. Several hundred protestors who reached the Sabarmati Ashram directly were also whisked away in police vans and blocked from taking out the march.
These farmers from Mahuva area in Bhavnagar district are protesting the decision by the Government of Gujarat to sanction a cement plant by Nirma Ltd, which includes 288 ha. of land for the factory and another 3000 ha. for a limestone quarry. Mahuva area has among the most fertile lands in Gujarat, where farmers grow three crops, and export dehydrated onions and numerous other fruits. Moreover, the numerous onion dehydrating plants (turnover Rs. 300 crore) & cotton gins (turnover Rs. 3,500 crore) provide employment to an additional 10,000 people in the factories.
The cement plant which the government proposes to build in the area will employ only 418 people for an investment of 2500 crore (Rs. 2.5 billion), but will end up devastating around 50,000 land owners, farmers & farm labourers, besides polluting the air and destroying the pristine coastal & inland ecology. It was only in the last few years that the Government had invested tens of millions of public money to construct structures for water conservation & prevention of salinity ingress in this very area.
The farmers of the area have been protesting the government policies for over a year, and have been facing the combined wrath of the government and company goons for doing so. The government appointed a committee under SK Shelat (ex-Chief Secretary) to look into people’s grievances last year, and the company was required to stop work pending the presentation of the report of the Shelat Committee. This Committee, without either visiting the area or listening to the affected people, has now given the ‘go-ahead’ to the company for this project, which is likely to destroy the lives of around 50 000 people.
The attack on the protestors today follows a pattern of police repression of non-violent and peaceful expression of dissent by the affected villagers. On 13th December 2009, Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, MLA, 92 year old Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya, Sagar Rabari, Anirudh Jadeja, Lakhan Musafir and Anand Mazgaonkar were prevented from holding a public meeting in Vangar village. Two local leaders Shri Wamanbhai and Pravinbhai Kathiria were beaten up apparently by hired goons, and other villagers were manhandled by the police.
A few days ago, on 20th February, the police lathi-charged a peaceful rally of villagers, and ten activists continue to be imprisoned on false charges. Dr. Kanubhai Kalsaria, the MLA from Mahuva area, his wife and companions were again attacked o way to Doliya village on 21st February, and their 4 motorcycles were badly damaged. Undeterred by these clearly State sponsored backlash, the people from the area pressed on with their original plans of a massive march from Sabarmati Ashram to Gandhinagar (State capital) today to present their petition to the Chief Minister. This latest round of police suppression of this villagers’ rally today is a sad testament to the declining space available for voicing dissent in Gujarat today.