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Indian farmers vow to fight land seizures

Gujarat plan will destroy thousands of lives, they say reporter, Ahmedabad

June 20, 2013

Thousands of farmers in Gujarat are up in arms over attempts by the state government to "steal" their land for commercial purposes, saying they will be left homeless and without livelihoods.

The western state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party) intends to establish a Special Investment Region (SIR) near the commercial city of Ahmedabad, covering over 50,000 hectares of arable land.

“We are not interested in giving up our land. It’s fertile with river water available in the area, meaning we can now grow three crops a year. We want to remain as famers. We don't want industry here," said Dinesh Rabari, one of 10,000 farmers at a protest in the state capital Gandhi Nagar on Tuesday.

The SIR project is the brainchild of the state's controversial chief minister Narendra Modi, who says he wants to attract investment to the state. But farmers say it will adversely affect as many as 100,000 people living in 44 villages in three districts.

The farmers say a state law, enacted in 2009, requires them to hand over 40 percent of their land to the government without compensation, while the remaining 60 percent should be sold at current open market rates.

They claim that leaves them with little or no chance of buying land elsewhere to replace what they have lost.

"We will give our lives, but not our land," the protesters shouted at Tuesday’s protest, vowing to resist the acquisition plan no matter what the cost.

Laljibhai Desai, a protest organizer, said the farmers will physically prevent officials entering their villages to take their land. He also announced plans for another rally in the state capital on August 9.

Jimmy Dabhi, research director of St Xavier’s non-formal education society, which is part of a growing coalition supporting the farmers, told the government scheme would only help a few people.

“A large number of farmers would lose everything. Unskilled farmers, particularly Dalits [lower castes], will lose their livelihoods,” he said.

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