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India

Gujarat: 5500 Farmers Detained for Protesting Land Grab

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 25 buses 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 50000 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 Chie f 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.

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24.02.2010

Mahuva area in Bhavnagar district has among the most fertile lands in Gujarat. Unlike most of Gujarat and especially Saurashtra region farmers grow three crops, and exports mangoes, coconuts and other fruits. Moreover, the numerous onion dehydrating plants & cotton gins provide employment to at least 10 000 people. That is the region the Government hardsells as the 'silver corridor' of industrial development.

People of this fertile & prosperous region were naturally shocked to discover that the Government of Gujarat sanctioned a cement plant by Nirma Ltd. And 288 hectares (720 acres) for the factory + 3000 hectares (7500 acres) for limestone mining, that would employ all of 418 people for an investment of Rs. 2500 crore (Rs. 25 billion). The cement plant will devastate land owners, rob farmers & farm labourers of their livelihoods, pollute the air and destroy the pristine coastal & inland ecology. It was only in the last few years that the Government invested tens of millions of public money to construct structures for water conservation & prevention of salinity ingress in this very area.

People of at least 15 villages have steadfastly & nonviolently opposed this project over the last one year. The government was forced to appoint a committee to consider people's opposition. The committee without either visiting the area or listening to the affected people has now given the the company the 'go-ahead'. This is likely to destroy the lives of around 50 000 people.

Such destructive projects can only be foisted on people using threat & violence. People's nonviolent resistance has been met with terror unleashed on affected villagers, especially women. On 13th December '09 the local legislator, Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria, 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.

The police rather than maintaining law and order and facilitating the public meeting acted as company agents. The situation is grim. The company has started pre-construction activities. Affected people have been forced to try to protect their land & livelihoods and it is their firm resolve to nonviolently resist displacement & dis-employment.

After a year long nonviolent protest & efforts to make the Government see reason failed 11,500 (yes more than eleven thousand people) people signed a petition with their blood requesting it to desist from dispossessing them. On Saturday, 20th February around 8-10 000 people took out a silent march along with the local legislator, Dr Kanubhai Kalsariya. They were attacked by police. At least 10 people were wounded and needed medical attention. Three of them are still ( as of Monday, 22nd Feb) in hospital. Seven have been arrested and will probably be charged with crimes police have actually committed. Then on Sunday, 21st Feb, Dr Kanubhai Kalsariya was attacked by a gang who are suspected to be company goons / security men. both Kanubhai & his wife are in hospital.

This is clearly a State sponsored backlash to scare & prevent people from going ahead with the massive march they have planned from Sabarmati Ashram to Gandhinagar (State capital) on 25th Febraury.

We request you to:

i) be with us, in person those who can, others in spirit on 25th Feb
ii) be on alert to send out protest letters, make phone calls to police, Govt. authorities if there is State violence on 25th
iii) turn our updates into press releases, news items, stories for the local media
iv) if you are outside India do send your protest letters, news releases, stories to the local India embassy, consulate, public relations office, & if you discover a funding or technology-transfer connection between your local agency & Indian 'targets' do create ruckus!
v) we may ask some of you to send solidarity messages or make phone calls to those arrested, injured etc. should some of our worse fears come true

Anand Mazgaonkar
Sagar Rabari
Swati Desai
Michael Mazgaonkar
Rajni Dave
Nita Mahadev

(Sanhati, 25th February)