Mahuva villagers want Nirma plant out

Ahmedabad: Nirma became Gujarat's hero by defeating multi-national giants in detergent business and Padmashri Karsanbhai Patel emerged an icon of Gujarat's entrepreneurship. But in a dozen-odd villages near Mahuva, the public perception is not in keeping with this image.


The giant is finding it tough to wash off the local opposition against its ambitious cement plant, proposed to be set up near Mahuva in Bhavnagar district. As a by-product, the issue has got politicised and government too has suffered an image erosion, being considered in some quarters as being anti-people.
The 214 hectare plant coming up at cost of Rs1,400 cr will require a mining lease of over 8,000 acres, which will displace some 5,000 families —accounting for over 30,000 people. But the root of the problem is not just displacement.

The plant is proposed in a coastal area which has been severely affected by salinity ingress.Villagers were in dire circumstances as local agriculture and employment were nearly non-existent. This was despite the fact that the place was once known as 'Kashmir of Kathiawad'.

It was in year 1999 that the BJP-ledstate government headed by Keshubhai Patel ordered building of four giant CDTRS (Check Dam cum Tidal Regulatory Structure) at a cost of over Rs60 crore.They are located in a stretch of 40 km and they turned thousands of acres of land green. The local residents saw a fresh hope in living here as the crop yield rose drastically.

However, their happiness was short-livedas the government allocated the land to Nirma. They are worried that the limestone barrier, which has been guarding the land against seawater, will be gone and the land will turn into a saline desert.

The local resistance grew when goons started hoodwinking the local residents to vacate the land. Children stopped going to schools and residents who dared to resist were chased and intimidated.

The result is a massive public movement. On February 11,as many as 11,111 farmers will put their thumb impressions in blood. They want to send a memorandum with the thumb impressions to chief minister Narendra Modi to register theirprotest. The agitation is led by three-time BJP MLA from Mahuva, Dr Kanu bhai Kalsariya.

The 268 hectares of plant site includes a water body spread over 222 hectares, formed after a CDTRS was built at Samdhiyala village."Not only will the villagers be deprived of the benefit of the huge water body, but their life will be miserable in the long run once the limestone that works as a natural protection against salinity is mined by the company," says Kalsariya. He says the mining will cause irreversible damage to the entire coastal area.

Today, Mahuva has 50 onion dehydration plants and 20 cotton ginning plants. The area has prospered without any big industries, thanks to agriculture. And agriculture has survived because of limestone blocks and the CDTRS.

The main reason for Mahuva's agriculture prosperity is the huge stock of limestone blocks that check salinity ingress. Besides, the area is also a delta of rivers, which merge into the sea from narrow gaps. During the high tide, seawater enters deep into the delta, thereby increasing the salinity of the area.

DNA's attempt to consider Nirma's viewpoint turned futile as a jeep-load of 20-odd musclemen came hunting for this reporter while taking pictures at the site.

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  1. Industrialization and Agriculture have become quite enemies these days as they vie for the common land and water. Industries are important but when the livelihood of farmers is at stake, there is always a bias towards farmers as the economy provided by farming is far less compared to the industries. Most often the industries try to wriggle away from pollution saying that they provide jobs for the scores of that region so closing the industry or the company would ruin the employment of locals. This is what has happened in all the industries it tanneries in Vellore district or the Pollution by Noyyal River by the textile industries. The farmers of these two regions are fighting the pollution in courts, the wait being prolonged and the murmurs of far less compensation allotted and the reversal of damage taking its own time. Many farmers have relocated to elsewhere or work in the very same polluting industries abandoning their lands. The lobbying power of the Industries is more compared to the farmers. Industries using and polluting the water resources get away because of lax environmental laws. Water being the most exploited by industries, the important element for agriculture too poses problems. Fresh water is the requisite for both Industries as well as agriculture, which is getting depleted day by day either because of monsoonal changes or due to human activity like over extraction. Over extraction of water from ground result in the water table going down as well as the water turning brackish as it has to pass through limestone making things worse. That has what happened in the tannery belt of Ambur, Vaniyambadi and Peranambet in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu and also the adjoining districts of Chennai where water is extracted from wells to feed the ever growing needs of Chennai as well as the mineral water business. Water's non sustainable use and abuse result in much loss to the farmers and common people where we had to rely on digging deeper bore wells or pay a hefty sum to get potable water. We need stringent laws against the erring industries and there is a need for the stringent measures taken to protect the water bodies as well as the ground water from being polluted and over used by the industries. Common man as well as the media should become proactive in this context. If these things are not addressed properly the individual cases like Vellore and Tirupur and Gujarat will recur in many places threatening the very survival of man kind.

    One wonders whether Environmental Impact assessment is taken seriously before allowing the function of any polluting industry. One wonder what happen to the state laws of pollution Acts of land, soil and air that are promulgated. Why are the industries allowed to pollute? Why are the laws so week when it comes to livelihood of farmers and lesser fortunate ones and why are the natural water bodies which are the public properties being exploited by few?

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