Statue of Unity: Tribals seek withdrawal of bill, say it will take away their land
Ahmedabad, Dec 24: Tribals of villages close to Sardar Patel's Statue of Unity in Narmada district of Gujarat on Monday demanded the withdrawal of the bill that envisages setting up of an authority for planned development around the imposing structure, a major tourist attraction. They fear once the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Bill comes into force, authorities will take away their land in the name of development.
The Bill was passed on December 11, even as the opposition Congress staged a walk-out. The Congress too argued that the Bill was anti-tribal.
The tribals also took out a protest march against the state governments plan to set up a tourism authority for the planned development of the Statue of Unity area.
The bill proposes to set up an SOU Tourism Authority which will have powers to ensure planned development of the area in and around Kevadiya, where the 182-metre statue dedicated to Sardar Patel has come up. The new body is empowered to declare the area as tourism development zone to facilitate visitors coming from all over the country and also abroad to see the world's tallest statue.
Hundreds of tribals marched from the villages proposed to be included in the tourism development area to be governed by the authority and submitted a memorandum to the district collector demanding its withdrawal. The protesters said the proposed authority will give immense power to officials to take away their land in the name of development while weakening local bodies like village panchayat.
The authority will take away their democratic rights by chipping away at the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, which is for self-governance through gram sabhas for people living in the scheduled areas, they said. Members from various groups like the Adivasi Mul Nivasi Sangathan and the Gujarat Adivasi Samaj, among others, took part in the protest march.
"The area of our residence has been declared as a notified area through illegal means which should be withdrawn immediately, the protesters said in the memorandum submitted to the collector and marked to the chief minister and governor. They also apprehend the tourism authority will lead to the rule of bureaucrats by reducing the say of democratically- elected leaders and adversely affect tribal culture and tradition."
As per the bill, the "authority will be responsible for the control, regulation, development, protection and maintenance, as well as licencing, registration, recognition and grading of tourism trade, related activities in the said area. It will have powers to execute town planning. Over 29 lakh tourists have visited the Statue of Unity since it was inaugurated on October 31 last year, generating a revenue of Rs 82.51 crore, the state government told the assembly earlier this month. The figures are from the period between November 1, 2018, and November 16, 2019.