Amid widespread allegations that the Gujarat government is increasingly siphoning off farm lands to pursue its big-industry friendly policies, hundreds of farmers from 44 villages on the Mandal-Becharaji corridor, close to the twin power centres of Ahmedabad and State capital Gandhinagar, are up in arms against the government.

The farmers are opposing the setting up of a proposed auto hub along this belt that has been christened by the government as a Special Investment Region (SIR). They point out that this would usurp them of their precious fertile land.

The government has already allotted land to Maruti Suzuki in Hansalpur and there is a plan to acquire more land for setting up the Special Investment Region. Farm leaders have met a ministerial committee and have made up their mind not to part with their land. They don’t wish anything short of a cancellation of the government’s plan to declare the region as an auto hub.

Fertile land

The farm leaders say that the proposed SIR area comprises a whopping 63,000 hectares of fertile agricultural land and threatens to affect the livelihoods of over 2,000 farmers.

“Farmers met the Revenue Minister [Anandiben Patel] yesterday [Tuesday] and she accepted their memorandum. But we are not hopeful that there would be any change in the stand of the government,” said Sagar Rabari, convener of the Jameen Adhikar Andolan (land rights agitation) Gujarat.

Among several protests, this is the second-largest agitation against the State government after the one led by the former BJP MLA, Kanu Kalsaria, that prevented Gujarat’s home-grown corporate giant Nirma from setting up shop in Saurashtra.

About the present SIR area, Mr. Kalsaria, who fought the last Assembly election as an Independent, said: “The land of this region is very fertile and in some places yields three crops a year. And then, here 50 per cent of the land will be acquired by the government without adequate compensation.”

On May 30, some 10,000 farmers converged at Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad and later held a huge public meeting at Vasna village, which was attended by eminent Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya, the former Gujarat Finance Minister, Sanat Mehta, and several other social activists.

What also explains the government’s increasing policy slant away from the farm sector is the fact, as revealed by the latest 2011 census data, that the number of farmers during the last decade has come down by 3.55 lakh in the State. As against this, the number of farm labourers — which also includes landless labourers — has risen by 17 lakh.

According to the Census figures, therefore, there are over 54 lakh farmers in the State as against 68 lakh agricultural labourers. The numbers point to the fact that while an estimated two per cent of people sway away from agriculture in a decade, the percentage is five per cent in Gujarat.