Adivasi families forced to live in ‘Open Air Prison’ due to construction of “Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan” as part of the Statue of Unity Project in Gujarat
Matter in the National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) for blatant violations of the EIA Notification, Wetland Rules and other relevant laws
18th April, New Delhi: Since 31 October 2013, at the time of the laying of the Foundational Stone of the Statue of Unity Project, several important important questions about the environmental & social impact of the project on the area and thousands of tribals’ life and livelihood have been raised. Ignoring these questions, the authorities have gone ahead with the project and gave work order on 27 October 2014 to start the constructing for the project to the Larsen & Toubro Limited. Further, the Government and associated authorities have gone to great lengths to evade public transparency and crush the people’s democratic opposition to the impugned project. In March 2015 fencing was constructed around the homes of 6 Tribal Families comprising 70 people who live near the site of the proposed “Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan”. Police force stands guard 24 X 7 outside the newly raised gate which the people have to pass through to access their homes and land—they feel as if they live in a veritable “Open Air Prison”. The terrorisation of the people continued on until 28th March 2015 when six peacefully protesting villagers and their three children were illegally arrested and held without proper food and facilities.
A group of concerned citizens (1) Trupti Shah, (2) Girishbhai Patel, (3) Krishnakant, (4) Mahesh Pandya, (5) Ghanshyam Shah, (6) Chinu Srinivasan, (7) Persis Ginwalla, (8) Rohit Prajapati, (9) Saroop Dhruv, and (10) Rajnibhai Dave have filed a case – Application No. (WZ) (Trupti Shah & Ors V/s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel R.E.T. & Ors.) – against the “Statue of Unity Project” on 23 March 2015 in National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) Pune Bench asking for an immediate halt to all work on the “Statue of Unity Project” at the Kevadia Village of Narmada District, Gujarat. Senior human rights lawyer who practices in the High Court of Mumbai, Gujarat and the Supreme Court of India, Mr. Mihir Desai, Ms. Lara Jesani who practice in the High Court of Mumbai, National Green Tribunal and Mr. Asim Sarode who practice in National Green Tribunal, Pune comprise the legal council for the case.
The first hearing took place at Pune on 9 April 2015 and notice was issued to the (1) The Chairman, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET), (2) The Chairman & Managing Director, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd., (3) The Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat, (4) The Member Secretary, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority, (5) The Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, & (6) The Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director, Larsen & Toubro Limited and application was fixed for hearing on 16 April 2015. On 16 April 2015 the Government of Gujarat asked for time to file their reply and court granted 8 May 2015 for the next hearing.
The main demands of the application are:
a. Pass orders staying any and / or ongoing work with respect to the ‘Statue of Unity Project’, or any component thereof in the Narmada District, Gujarat.
b. Direct the Respondents to take adequate and necessary measures to ensure stoppage of any further work in the ‘Statue of Unity Project’, or any component thereof.
c. Direct the Respondents to initiate legal action under Sections 15 and 16 of the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986 against the concerned individuals and companies that have started work or given permission for work of ‘Statue of Unity Project’, or any component thereof.
d. Direct the Respondents to initiate legal action under Section 17 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 against the concerned officers who have failed to ensure complete compliance of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 before allowing commencement of the work in respect of Statue of Unity Project.
e. Pending the hearing and final disposal of this application to restrain the Respondents from carrying out any further work in respect of Statue of Unity Project, or any component thereof.
f. Direct the Respondent No. 1 and 2 to take all necessary steps for restitution of the project area to its status quo ante.
g. Pass such other or further order / orders as this Honourable Court may deem fit and proper in the interests of justice.
The Statue of Unity Project, as is abundantly clear from the official website (www.statueofunity.in), is not simply the construction of a “mute monument”. It is an elaborate Tourism Project which includes its principal component, a 182 meter-tall iron statue of Shri Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel built over a project area of more than 120,000 sq.mtrs. surrounded by a man-made lake (reservoir called Garudeshwar Weir); a bridge connecting the statute to the mainland; improved roadway between the Statue and Kevadia village; parking and transport site; and hotel and Convention Centre (Shreshtha Bharat Bhawan). These project components are proposed to be constructed as part of Phase I of the Statue of Unity Project.
Phase II of the Project will include the development of banks of River Narmada up to the Bharuch District; development of road, rail and tourist infrastructure; schools, colleges and universities for tribal development; education Research Centre and Knowledge City; tourism corridor from Garudeshwar to Bhadbhut; and clean technology research park and agriculture training centre. These are also part of the composite Statue of Unity Project, although the project area of the same has not yet been revealed to the general public.
The Environmental Clearance required under the Environment Impact Assessment (hereafter EIA) Notification of September, 2006, has not been sought for any component of this elaborate project. This is despite the fact that the Statue of Shri Sardar Patel which is the principal component of the Project is to be constructed 3.2 kms. from the Sardar Sarovar Dam and adjacent to the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, the boundary of which touches the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir and on the right of Statue the Nana Thavadia Village is part of Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary. The Project will involve extensive construction work in an active riverbed of a perennial river, River Narmada, and also is likely to fall within a critical wetlands area as and when the same is to be notified under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010.”The construction of the Project and tourism and other human activities after the completion of the Project is bound to have adverse effects on the downstream river, its biodiversity, and the surrounding wetlands all of which has been ignored by the respondent authorities. It is also pertinent that for the World’s Tallest Statue, the Respondent Authorities have not even engaged in a Social and Environment Impact Assessment which would shed light on the impact of the project and the resultant influx of migrant labourers and tourists on the livelihoods of the indigenous people who have been residing downstream from the project for generations. The safety and disaster management component of the project has also been casually dealt with, which is particularly shocking seeing as how, the construction for the Project is on an active tectonic plate in a fault line area which is already burdened with the load of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and its massive reservoir!
Trupti Shah, Girishbhai Patel, Krishnakant, Rohit Prajapati, Mahesh Pandya, Ghanshyam Shah, Chinu Srinivasan, Persis Ginwalla, Saroop Dhruv, Rajnibhai Dave, Lakhan Musafir, Himanshu Thakkar, Nandini Oza, Prasad Chacko, Shripad Dharmadhikary, Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Xavier Manjooran, Hiren Gandhi, Ishwarbhai Prajapati, Raju Deepti, Deepti Raju, Amrish Brahmbhatt
For more detail and clarification:
Trupti Shah – 09427937162
Krishnakant – 09427849310
Rohit Prajapati – 0265-2320399 / 09408986452