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In Modi's Gujarat, a Singur could be in the making

Last updated on: May 31, 2013 22:13 IST

In Modi's Gujarat, a Singur could be in the making

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Sohini Das and Premal Balan in Ahmedabad

In what some see as a reminder of the bitter battle between land owners and the state government that forced Tata Motors out of West Bengal's Singur, discontent seems to be brewing over classification of land for industrial use among villagers in Gujarat's Mandal-Becharaji belt, in Mehsana district, where Maruti Suzuki's manufacturing facility is to come up.

The proposed plant could get caught in a crossfire between farmers and the Narendra Modi-led state government, with 36 of the 44 gram sabhas in the region today passing a resolution to oppose the status of special investment region being given to the Mandal-Becharaji belt.

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Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Photographs: Redfiff Archives

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Though farmers are not immediately opposing Maruti's 640-acre plant at Hansalpur, they are against the idea of their fertile land being acquired for development of an industrial hub.

They have, however, made it clear they will oppose the Maruti plant, too, if the SIR notification by the state government is not withdrawn.

"We will make a representation to the state soon.

"If the SIR plan is not called off, we will also oppose the Maruti plant coming up at Hansalpur," said Ajmalbhai Thakore, village chief of Hansalpur.

The proposed expansion plans of Maruti, the country's biggest car manufacturer, could run into trouble if the issues are not resolved.

Besides the land allocated at Hansalpur, the company has acquired another 700-800 acres in Vithlapur, where the villagers gathered today to oppose the SIR.

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Image: Tata Nano.
Photographs: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

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The farmers also burnt copies of the Mandal-Becharaji Special Investment Region notification issued by the government last year.

Maruti Suzuki Chairman R C Bhargava said he was not aware of the latest developments and so did not wish to comment at the moment.

Gujarat is the only state in the country to have notified an SIR Act. It did so in 2009. SIRs are different from special economic zones, as these are larger in size and not just export-oriented.

These include commercial and industrial units, together with residential areas and effective logistic connectivity.

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Image: Narendra Modi.
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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The SIR notification was given to the region when Maruti decided to set up its plant.

The total area falling under the Mandal-Becharaji belt is 530 sq km (about 126,000 acres).

It is located in the Sanand-Viramgam area on the western side of Ahmedabad.

The Act empowers the government to declare an investment region or industrial area and designate it as special investment region.

A four-tier administrative mechanism is set up for establishment, operation, regulation and management of SIRs.

It provides an effective framework for private-sector participation in infrastructure by drawing upon the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Act Act, 1999.

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Image: Former Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Photographs: Reuters

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Farmers claim 80 per cent of the land being brought under the SIR is agriculture land, while 15 per cent is pasture land and the rest wasteland.

Villagers fear an SIR would have adverse impact on agriculture, animal husbandry and fodder.

"Farmers of these villages waited endlessly for the Narmada water to flow.

"Even as their wait was about to end, the government came out with the notification of acquiring the land," said former BJP rebel Kanu Kalsariya, who had earlier spearheaded the people's movement against Nirma's cement plant.

The image is used for representational purpose only

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Image: A farmer carries cucumbers from his field to sell in the markets.
Photographs: Reuters

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Besides Kalsariya, the farmers have support from veteran Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya and former state finance minister Sanat Mehta.

If the SIR plan is withdrawn, the area would no longer be a formally declared industrial area with a specific regional development authority.

Land in the area could, however, still be purchased -- either by private parties or government agencies.

The Gujarat government's spokesperson, Nitin Patel, said: "We will talk to farmers and try to find an amicable solution to the issue.

"We will make sure the farmers benefit from the development we have envisaged."

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Photographs: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

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NUTS & BOLTS

Key facts about MB SIR

  • 44 villages: Covered by the SIR, spread across 530 sq km (about 126,000 acres)
  • Fertile belt: Farmers say their livelihood will be jeopardised as the region sees cultivation of cotton and cumin crops
  • Strategic location: The region is located around 50 km from Sanand, 30 km west of Mehsana and around 110 km from Ahmedabad
  • Big investment: Maruti's upcoming plant at Hansalpur (Maruti has also privately acquired 700-800 acres at Vithlapur, also under the SIR, for its future expansion)
  • Govt plans: Auto parks, logistics parks, engineering parks, dedicated zone for Japanese industries, hi-tech park, residential zones, dedicated area for R&D and universities

Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
Tags: Maruti , SIR , BOLTS , NUTS , Vithlapur

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