STATUE OF UNITY AT WHOSE COST?

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Without further delay, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the world’s tallest statue of Sardar Vallabbhai Patel at Gujarat’s Narmada district on October 31, in the wake of the general elections 2019. The 182-metre colossal statue of freedom fighter Patel, also named as ‘Statue of Unity’, unsurprisingly, failed to unite the massive population of Adivasi farmers and tribal villagers, who had to sacrifice their everything — homes, lands, farms and work — for the Rs. 3000 crore mega project to come to life. The villagers have firmly stated that the ‘Statue of Unity’ is nothing more than a waste of “hard-earned money of the public,” which could have been better utilised in establishing schools, hospitals, sanitation, drinking water facilities, which are still a distant dream for the areas adjacent to Kevadiya where the statue stands today. They even said that this prejudice and unfairness is mainly because they “belong to Adivasi and tribal communities and not Patel community.”

If that wasn’t enough, only after the unveiling of the ‘Statue of Unity’, around 300 activists were released from the arrests who warned to hold a demonstration on the day of the launch, October 31, a way to dissuade the dissents. For a while now, there has been a vehement protest by the Adivasi farmers and Gujarat’s tribals. Many activists, locals, politicians were detained in many areas

Also, signed by 22 village Sarpanchs (headmen), in an open letter to the PM on October 31, they wrote that he (PM) is not welcome in their villages for neglecting their rights and going ahead with the project. The even mentioned that how Patel would have felt by seeing the atrocities being levied upon them. The letter reads: “If Sardar Patel could see the mass destruction of natural resources and injustice done to us, he would cry. When we are raising our issues, we are persecuted by police. Why you are not ready to listen to our plight?”

Activist Lakhan Musafir, who was arrested along with 23 Adivasi protestors, after being released from police station said that the anger and frustration of the villagers are genuine as in the last month, almost six villages around Garudeshwar area had to lose acres of lands due to government’s apathy as the water from the dam was released without giving any warnings to the farmers.

It’s pertaining to note that over 15 villages in the Narmada district were affected (and still living with difficulties) when Sardar Sarovar Dam project was established in 1990s.

Former Chief Minister of Gujarat Suresh Mehta has stated that the 182-metre colossal ‘Statue of Unity’ project is “illegal” and that it is a political gimmick of the BJP-led government to woo the vote bank of the  unhappy Patels or Patidars in the upcoming general election 2019.

“Under the PESA Act, decisions taken by gram sabhas are final and binding. But, when tribals of that area, through gram sabhas, raised objections against the project, the state government did not listen. This is a violation of the Act. This project is also illegal because the government did not conduct any environmental impact assessment. It is only meant for publicity. It is a politically-motivated project keeping in mind the 2019 elections,” Mehta was quoted as saying to reporters.

While speaking with media person, a local tribal from Vagadiya village, Shailesh Tadvi, said, “Land of six villges were first acquired by the government in the 1960s for the main dam project. We have not received any compensation for that till date. Now, that land is being used for the statue project. We want the government to compensate us before unveiling the statue.”

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