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School boycott in Nano land protest

Ahmedabad, Jan. 9: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will surely be wishing the land protesters in Singur and Nandigram had taken a leaf out of their Gujarat brethren’s book.

Five villages in Sanand taluka are protesting the planned acquisition of their land, for an industrial park around the Nano plant, by refusing to send their children to primary school.

Why harm your own children? The farmers’ reply is that this is the “only option” and is in line with the “Gandhian” tradition of protest through self-sacrifice.

Even their babies are now to be dragged into battle. Realising that the five-day-old “school boycott” isn’t working — the state education minister today said he hadn’t even heard of it — the farmers have decided on an additional boycott.

“We will boycott tomorrow’s pulse polio immunisation programme,” farmer Rameshbhai said.

Not everyone is happy at these forms of protest. Babu Majitha, a farmer and social worker who has been supporting the land protest, said: “Schooling should not be stopped, there are other ways of protesting.”

Social activist Manishi Jani, however, said: “This (school boycott) is a very innovative protest; Gandhi would have approved of it.”

Sanand’s villagers had celebrated when Tata Motors shifted its Nano plant from Singur in 2008. The company was given 1,100 acres of government land and needed just over 50 acres for an approach road — and the farmers gave that happily.

The industrial park, a Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) project, will require nearly 10,000 acres. The farmers say it will eat up virtually all the farmland in the villages of Gokalpura, Kunvar, Hirapur, Charal and Siyawadha, and leave over 5,000 families without any means of livelihood.

The farmers had been protesting for the past one month after the GIDC sent acquisition notices. From Tuesday, they began the school boycott, emptying their five primary schools of their 1,600 students.

Gokalpura sarpanch Virjibhai Patel led by example: his three young children have all stopped going to school. He said: “What is the point sending our children to school if we are going to lose our land? How else can we force the government to reconsider?”

In Gandhinagar, education minister Raman Vora said he had to look after 32,000 primary schools and hadn’t heard about these five. “I don’t think there is any connection between the land acquisition and the school boycott,” he said.

The farmers realise the tactic isn’t working but say they will continue the school boycott while looking for added steps, such as refusing to pay the power bill.

The pulse polio boycott threat today brought a senior health official to these villages, who promised to convey the farmers’ concerns to his seniors in Gandhinagar.

Sanand Industry Association president Ravubha Vaghela, a farmer-turned-entrepreneur who had ensured the Nano project did not face a land resistance, has questioned the GIDC’s “mindless move”.

“Industrialisation at the cost of agriculture is dangerous. Entire villages are being acquired,” said Vaghela, who had himself offered 30 acres “free of cost” to the government for the Nano project.

According to GIDC divisional manager Ghanshyam Jogiani, the farmers are “just posturing for higher compensation”.

He said the government had offered Rs 20.23 lakh an acre, and the farmers could buy land elsewhere at less than half the rate. The farmers said the government had offered Rs 46 lakh per acre while acquiring land for the Nano project.

But they add that compensation isn’t the issue. “We know the plight of those who gave their land for various projects,” said their leader, Raman Patel.

Land will be acquired for the industrial park from two other villages, Khoda and Vadpetapur, but they haven’t joined the school boycott because they will lose only a little land.

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