Gujarat High Court halts land acquisition around Statue of Unity

Published : August 09, 2019 13:22 IST

A view of the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, at Kevadiya colony in Narmada district. Photo: PTI

Controversy continues to surround the Rs.2,989 crore Statue of Unity in Gujarat. A public interest petition has been filed against land acquisition around the statue. The High Court of Gujarat has ordered status quo and put a stop to eviction of people until further notice.

The Ahmedabad-based environmentalist Mahesh Pandya had filed the PIL in the High Court of Gujarat against the land acquisition in six villages around the Statue of Unity in Narmada district. In his PIL Pandya said the government and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) were set to evict more than 5,000 Adivasis “under the guise of tourism development projects without following due procedure under the Land Acquisition Act”. Furthermore, he said, the authorities were asserting their rights over these lands by claiming that the lands had been acquired in the 1960s itself but since there was no need for the lands then people had been allowed to settle there.

Mahesh Pandya’s PIL said that whatever claim the government might have had on the land should have lapsed over this period of time. “The proceedings of the land acquisition lapsed long back and the respondents cannot claim to evict these villagers from different parcels of land which, though shown in the name of SSNNL or government, are in actual and physical possession of the tribal villagers,” the petition stated. Despite this the government and its agency have started the process of taking possession of the land.

The statue has been a magnet for controversy right from its conception to its inauguration. It was initially supposed to be a memorial to Patel but soon also became a focal point for promoting the BJP’s brand of nationalism. The 182-metre-tall colossus was meant to celebrate the eponymous and equally gigantic Sardar Sarovar dam which is located just a few kilometres from the statue. For those who opposed the dam this was a double insult since the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam and its supporting dams displaced thousands of people and then the statue construction did the same. From being representative of nationalism, progress and free trade, the statue is now promoted as a tourist attraction. Hence the desire to take over more land and create more tourism facilities.

Accusations of environmental devastation and loss of land and livelihood are met with the argument that tourism is sustainable development and promoting it helps local cultures and local livelihood earnings. Furthermore, the very nationalistic claims of the statue are undermined given the fact that the 5,000 tonnes of iron, 75,000 cubic metres of concrete, 5,700 tonnes of steel and 22,500 tonnes of bronze sheets that went into the making of the statue were largely fabricated and fashioned in China and erected by Chinese labour.

The shifting shadows of the statue’s politics also include its funding. The Gujarat government had initially said that it would be funded by private and public money, but finally it was the State government that footed most of the bill.

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