Protest against land acquisition for a bypass on National Highway 8D

After protests by farmers against a Nirma cement plant in Saurashtra, the proposed special investment region (SIR) near Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar corridor and the Mirthi Virdi Nuclear Power Station, anger is now brewing against land acquisition for a bypass for National Highway 8D near Junagadh in Saurashtra region.

Farmers here have threatened to remove the demarcations made for the bypass jointly by the surveyors of the National Highway Authority of India as well as the district administration of Junagadh. They are for expanding an existing bypass to ensure farm lands are not diverted for the project. Under the banner of Khedut Heet Rakshak Samiti (organisation for farmers’ rights), they have decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court as well as send letters written in blood by women to Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Veteran Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya, whose Gujarat Lok Samiti, has lent support to the agitation, says that Congress general secretary Madhusudan Mistry, former BJP legislator from Saurashtra Kanu Kalsaria who led the stir against Nirma and veteran lawyer Prashant Bhushan of India Against Corruption are backing the farmers’ Junagadh protest.

Just about a fortnight ago, about 10,000 farmers from 44 villages on the Mandal-Becharaji corridor close to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar gathered here in some 500 tractors and other vehicles to oppose a proposed auto hub called the special investment region. The government has already allotted land to Maruti Suzuki in this region. According to Lalji Desai, one of the leaders of the agitation, the area covers 63,000 hectares of fertile land.

Such agitations have been building up in Gujarat in the backdrop of the fact that the number of farmers is falling at a steady rate in the State while there is a simultaneous rise in the number of landless labourers.

According to 2011 census figures, the number of farmers in the State during the last decade has fallen by 3.55 lakh, while farm labourers — landless labourers — have grown by a whopping 17 lakh.

There are several reasons for the increasing restlessness among the farmers in the State, says social scientist Achyut Yagnik. “The first is the government’s increasing tilt towards big industry; and then the high rate of urbanisation fostered by this,” he says.