Villagers veto sale of grazing land to Mundra SEZ

Until a month ago the Adani Group, the proponent of Mundra sez in Kutch district of Gujarat, had been on a roll, buying land at dirt-cheap rates, though some in the political circle and real-estate market smelled a scam in it. Then something unprecedented happened. The people of Zarapara village near Mundra port revolted. On April 15, over 3,000 villagers forced the panchayat to cancel the resolution by which 400 hectares (ha) of the gauchar land (pasture) was given to the company and declared that not an inch of the land would be given for the sez, potentially the biggest in the country.

"We propose to cancel the previous resolution which was passed clandestinely to grant the pasture to the Adani Group.If the panchayat does not act on this resolution passed by the gram sabha, we will propose to dissolve the village panchayat because it has forged a nexus with the Adani people to illegally acquire our pasture,' said Valji Gadhvi, the convenor of the Save Gauchar Committee (see box: Adani, go back).

The Adani Group refutes the charge. "We have been allotted the land following proper procedure. If any issue has cropped up, it is internal matter of the village's governing body, and the company has nothing to do with it,' said Hiren Shah, a representative of the group.

The village, which has 9,000 heads of cattle, has also challenged the panchayat's resolution in the Gujarat High Court and threatened that it would not let the company begin work on the land.

The Zarapara land deal is just the tip of the iceberg. As per government norms 16 ha of gauchar land is allocated per 100 animals and cannot be sold. The Adani Group has taken gauchar land in about 10 villages surrounding the Mundra port (see table: Grazing on pastures). People in other villages have also started agitating against the arbitrary decisions taken by panchayats. The real shock, however, lies in the price at which the Adanis got the land.

Grazing on pastures
An exercise in land grabbing?
Re 1 per square metre. That is the price at which Gautam Adani, ranked 91 on the Forbes' World Billionaires list, bought some land tracts from the Gujarat government for the sez coming up on the northern shore of the Gulf of Kutch. The extraordinary subsidy, acknowledged by the government in the assembly, covers over 5,000 ha Adani has received in 14 villages in and around the Mundra port. The notion that the subsidy could have been a part of an overall industry-friendly policy is belied by the difference in rates offered to Adani and other private-sector players.

In Dhrub village, for instance, other companies were given land at Rs 60 per sq m, while Adani clinched the deal between Rs 12.5 per sq m and Rs 25 per sq m. In Mundra village, Adani was offered land at Rs 25 per sq m, while others were charged over Rs 70 per sq m.

After levelling and zoning the tracts into plots, the Adanis are now selling them to private companies at rates ranging from Rs 800 per sq m to Rs 2,000 per sq m. Land patches offered on discounts to the Adanis have now assumed the market value. Even psus, like ioc and hpcl, had to buy land from the Adani Group at Rs 1,200 per sq m. According to residents of the area, the current value of land in Mundra taluka is between Rs 123 per sq m and Rs 3,700 per sq m.

The government has allotted pieces of land in Dhrub for industrial development to Mahalaxmi Enterprise, Balaji Industries, Omega Enterprise, Anmol Enterprise, Shriji Industries, Keshav Industries and others at rates between Rs 60 per sq m and Rs 70 per sq m. In Mundra, the government took Rs 72 per sq m from Swati Energy and Project, Sujyoti Free Invest, Blue Sea Enterprise, Jay Ambe Enterprise, Prince Enterprise and Shaurya Enterprise.

Apart from forest and grazing land, the state has given the Adani Group land earlier apportioned for salt-manufacturing units in Mundra taluka. In the last assembly session, the government admitted that about 15 salt-pan lease holders have surrendered their land, and that the government had granted them to the Mundra sez.

The government stated that in Mundra, Dhrub and Zarapara villages, 479 ha was granted to the sez proponent at Rs 25 per sq m. In Tunda, Shiracha and Navinal, 1,096 ha were given to the Adanis. These land tracts were returned by salt-pan workers.

A Congress mla from Kutch, Babu Meghji Shah, said the Mundra sez is nothing but a realty scam facilitated by the state government to benefit the Adani Group. He said the details regarding the land given for industrial use in Kutch were disclosed only after he raised the issue in the assembly.

"In Dhrub, land value is close to Rs 1.5 crore per acre (Rs 3.7 crore per ha). But the state government has granted land to Adani at Rs 40,000 per acre (Rs 89,500 per ha). This suggests under-the-table dealings between the Narendra Modi government and the Adani Group,' Shah said.

The Tata Group bought land for a power plant in villages near the Mundra port at Rs 14.8 lakh per ha. Shah asked why the government had not charged the same amount from the Adanis.

Officials in Kutch are tight-lipped about the allocation of land in Mundra for the sez. Officials in the district collectorate and district panchayat refused to provide any details, but declared that they acted on instructions issued from Gandhinagar.

According to a local real-estate agent, Mundra sez was being used as a cover for a large-scale land-grabbing exercise. "The administration in Mundra and Kutch is acting like an agent of the Adanis, trying to facilitate every stage of transaction, from identifying land to acquisition and possession,' he said.

Representatives of the Adani Group were not forthcoming on the Mundra dealings. They said Mundra Port and sez was a listed company and necessary details were provided in the red-herring prospectus at the time of its initial public offering last year.

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