Friday, February 25, 2011

In fallen Jethava’s Kodinar, locals rise to hold fort

In fallen Jethava's Kodinar, locals rise to hold fort
Indian Express By Hiral Dave

"This land is the only thing we can call ours. How can we just let it get ruined by industrial pollution?" asks 24-year-old fresh BSc graduate Mayur Parmar, pointing at his farm located a stone's throw away from Arabian Sea in south and reserved forest area in the north, at Kaj village in Kodinar taluka of Junagadh district.

This is now site for proposed thermal power station and a jetty by Shapporji Pallanji Energy (Gujarat) Limited.

Mayur claims that to prevent him from raising the same question at the environment clearance public hearing for project held in November 2010, he was threatened by Junagadh BJP MP Dinu Solanki's man. Later, he was manhandled, he claimed, by Solanki's men and not allowed to speak at all at the hearing presided over by district collector A M Parmar.

Requesting a re-hearing, Mayur and 43 other farmers from Kaj, Sarkhadi, Chhar, Valen and Kodinar have joined hands with social activist Balu Socha and have since filed a PIL at the Gujarat High Court. The PIL lists alleged obstructive roles of both the MP and the district collector. It says the MP spoke openly in favour of the project while the collector did not allow many farmers who wanted to raise objections to speak . The power plant has been proposed at Kaj village and the site for jetty to import coal is to come up at Chhara village. The distance between these two is about three kms.

This second PIL from the small town of Kodinar comes less than a year after environment and RTI activist Amit Jethava was murdered allegedly at the behest of Solanki's nephew Shiva for raising the issue of rampant illegal mining at Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and Kodinar border through a PIL.

The natural resources like forest and mines in the area, the locals say, have been exploited for years under protection from political leadership. In 1982 came Ambuja Cement, followed by Siddhi Cement and then GHCL at Sutrapada. The villagers say illegal mining sites to provide limestone to cement factories have mushroomed. Many are owned by Solanki and his family members.

For long before Jethava lost his life, lawlessness has reigned in Kodinar. The slain activist had sought to know, through an RTI query to police, the reasons behind 20 suspicious deaths during 1991 to 2007 in Kodinar. Dhirsinh Barad, who won Kodinar Assembly by-election in 2009 after Junagadh incumbent BJP MP Dinu Solanki vacated the seat, had even written a letter in 2004 to the then Governor Naval Kishor Sharma, demanding reopening of 11 closed cases alleging direct involvement of Solanki.

Between 2000 to 2009, as many as six cases with serious charges against have been registered with Kodinar police against Pratap alias Shiva Solanki . These range from assault to attempt to murder, but five cases have been closed due to lack of evidence while the sixth is against unidentified persons though complainants claimed to have named Shiva.

Like Jethava, Mayur and his associates Ranjitsinh Parmar (35) and Balu Socha too fear for life. But this time, a group of farmers are united. "We do get calls from unknown numbers and unknown people threatening us to end agitation. But we are ready to face anything," says Ranjitsinh.

They have done their homework well. Mayur would spend hours on the Internet, finding environment laws and rules to compare them with the project proposal for Shapporji Pallanji Energy (Gujarat) Limited.

"Project report says it will need 4.5 million tonnes of milestone. However, it doesn't mention from where it will be procured. Besides, once the plant starts functioning, noise pollution in the area is likely to go up to 90db(a), which is even higher than 75db(a) for industrial area. One km from the power station site is the reserved forest area, where Asiatic Lions come during summer. In fact, connecting kaccha road between coal jetty and thermal power plant is transitory route for Asiatic Lions," says Mayur, adding that "within 9-km radius, there are five bandaras (water bodies) that supply irrigation water to several villages in taluka".

A Coastal Area Environment Protection Committee has been formed to create awareness. The committee has a representative each each various communities including the Rajputs, Kolis and Muslims who inhabit the five affected villages. After group's voice was allegedly suppressed at the public hearing in November 2010, several meetings with villagers were conducted by the representatives. By January 24, farmers were coming forward to become petitioners.

Popat Barad, a 70-year-old farmer from Chhara, says, "They (company) asked me to sell off my 150 bighas of land. They offered me Rs. 5 lakh per bigha. But my question is what will I do after selling off my land?" Barad says he reaps crops worth Rs. 5 lakh per season and grows several crops including coconut, groundnut, wheat and sunflower.

Balu Socha, who also runs Samudra Surakha Sangh for fishermen, is one of the petitioners. "It is too difficult to get agricultural land somewhere else once a farmer sells his ancestral land," he says.

Together, now they are waiting for the PIL outcome.

Despite repeated attempts, Solanki could not be contacted.

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