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Why there are protests over an eco-sensitive zone in Narmada district?

The Editorial covers GS paper 3 [Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.]

ગુજરાતમાં ઈકો સેન્સિટિવ ઝોન મામલે શૂલપાણેશ્વર અભયારણ્યમા ઘમાસાણ, ખેડૂતો  આંદોલનના મૂડમાં | narmada farmer protest for shoolpaneshwar sanctuary eco  sensitive zone

Context

  • Tribal communities have been protesting against the notification since the beginning of November, when the district administration served the first notice to execute the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) order.

  • The tribals were apprehensive as they were “not taken into confidence”, and appealed to him to withdraw the notification to “mitigate the protests”.

  • Tribals, especially from the Tadvi and Vasava communities, have been on the edge ever since Kevadia, a sleepy village in Nandod taluka of Narmada district, was developed into a tourism circuit around the Statue of Unity.

Why are tribal communities protesting against the notification?

  • Firstly, as per the provisions of the notification, land falling in the eco-sensitive zone — including land belonging to the forest department, horticulture department, that used for agricultural use and plots reserved for parks — cannot be transferred for non-agricultural use for commercial, industrial or residential purposes. 

    • Any land that needs to be transferred can be done so only after approval from the state government.

  • Second, a process has been initiated to include the state government as the co-owner of the land in the 121 villages.

  • Third, the notification, combined with the formation of the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority, or Statue of Unity Tourism Authority (SoUTA), by the Gujarat government to govern Kevadia, which now has increased administrative needs owing to the booming tourism, has left tribals in a state of mistrust and fear. 

    • They feel the simultaneous implementation of the two government decisions could dilute the “power” vested with villagers under the Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, implemented in areas notified under Schedule V of the Constitution.

Why are political leaders joining the protests?

 

  • Several former BJP MLAs from the tribal areas have also been vocal in their opposition against the eco-sensitive zone. 

  • Former MLA from Dediapada Assembly constituency, Motilal Vasava, who is also the BJP’s state leader for the tribal cell, had written to the sarpanches of the 121 villages to use the upcoming gram sabhas to pass resolutions against the government order to implement the MoEFCC notification. 

  • One of the reasons the tribal leaders are flexing their muscles is because of the upcoming panchayat and urban local body elections.

  • Bhartiya Tribal Party MLA from Jhagadia in Bharuch district, Chhotu Vasava, who had abstained from voting in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections in June, said, “Our contention with both political parties — BJP and Congress — is they are unwilling to implement the Schedule V and PESA in its entirety. 

  • Tribals are indigenous and cannot be shifted and shunted out of their homes the way they have been so far. 

  • The governments, in the name of development, have been grabbing lands of tribals and selling them off to multimillionaires. 

  • Our fight is against this planned elimination of the tribal identity. 

  • PESA empowers the tribes, but that power has not been handed over to the gram sabhas.”

What is PESA?

 

  • Gujarat notified the State PESA Rules in January 2017, applicable in 4,503 gram sabhas under 2,584 village panchayats in 50 tribal talukas in eight districts of the state. 

  • At an event held in the tribal district of Chhota Udepur, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani hailed the Act as the “golden period of tribal development, promising a separate security force for the gram sabhas that would have complete power to decide their issues.”

  • While the provisions of the law deem the gram sabhas as “most competent” to deal with matters related to their territories for safeguarding their customs, traditions as well as the natural resources in the tribal areas, the Act has not been enforced in letter and spirit, legal experts say.

What is SoUTA? Does it contradict PESA?

 

  • The government passed the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority or the SoU Tourism Authority (SoUTA) Bill last year. 

  • The SoUTA has powers ranging from acquiring land for any development project to taking punitive action against those violating/encroaching it. 

  • The authority will define the limits of the tourism development area and will be empowered to acquire immovable property under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. 

  • It will largely work as a local body that will prepare and execute a development plan or a town planning scheme, remove encroachments and provide civic amenities like water supply, transportation, power supply, drainage, hospitals, medical services, schools, public parks, markets, shopping places, and disposal of waste, among others. 

  • The Bill sets aside Rs 10 crore from the consolidated fund of the state for the discharge of functions and duties by SoUTA.

  • The police, as per the Bill, can assist the authority in prohibiting “any nuisance being caused or prevent any such activity, process, the operation being carried out,” if it opines that it will damage or deteriorate the “tourism potentiality” of the area.

What is the Gujarat government’s position?

 

  • The Gujarat government has decided to go ahead with its plan to formalise the creation of the new authority for the SoU, which has been aggressively marketed as a tourism destination. 

  • On December 23, the state government announced details of SoUTA, where the first circle will include administrators for the Statue of Unity, Shreshth Bharat Bhavan, Gora bridge navigation channel, Jetty service and overall maintenance of the complex.

  • The second circle will include the administrators for all other projects around SoU.


Conclusion

Each of the two circles will have 112 employees including two supervisory engineers, an executive engineer (civil) and executive engineer (electrical). “As many as 61 existing officials from the SSNNL have been deputed into the SoUTA, along with their offices. Close to 51 other officials will soon be inducted to take the total strength to 201 personnel for the operation and maintenance, water supply, sewage lines, roads, parking, lights as well as the decorative lighting in the area of 25 sq metres of Kevadia colony,” the release said.


Source: Indian Express.