Gujarat villages resist “urbanization” as it has failed to bring in basic amenities for which they struggled

The proposed Dholera smart city, a replica

By Persis Ginwalla* and Sagar Rabari** 

“The rate of urbanisation in Gujarat, as per the Census 2011 is 43%, up from 37% in 2001. This makes Gujarat one of the fastest growing urbanised states in India, according to the Census.” This is supposed to be a positive indicator – indicating growth, development and growing prosperity.

And yet, in 2016, 34 villages around Morbi-Vankaner, under the aegis of the Morbi-Vankaner Sheheri Vikas Sattamandal Sarpanch Association, undertook a series of protests – fasts, demonstrations – against the proposal to include 42 villages into the Morbi-Vankaner Urban Development Authority (MVUDA). In September 2015, 42 villages around Junagadh city (part of Junagadh and Vanthali blocks), which were to be included in the Junagadh Urban Development Authority (JUDA), protested against this move and agitated to get them removed from the JUDA. This came on the heels of villages in Surat rejecting their inclusion in Surat Urban Development Authority (SUDA) twice and in Himmatnagar against inclusion in Himmatnagar Urban Development Authority (HUDA). All these agitations are being led by local protest groups. Following the protests, the first notification for Surat and the one for Himmatnagar were cancelled; the rest are pending.

The main contention of these protests is: they want to continue with their occupation as agriculturalists and inclusion in Urban Development Authority (UDA) will automatically mean a deduction of nearly 40% of their land, making agriculture next to impossible and leaving them with the only option of selling their land. At the very least this means that ‘one of the fastest urbanising states in India’ is doing so against

Past urbanisation

This is revealing an apparently new trend of popular resistance to urbanisation in Gujarat, whose people, it was believed, were eager to urbanise. It is important to note that urbanisation, all along, has happened without people’s participation, by and large. But more importantly, it should be borne in mind that the urbanisation that happened earlier was nothing more than a change in nomenclature and category. A notification for merging villages with the existing UDA would automatically transform those rural populations to urban populations without, in any way, changing their economics, social setup or mode of life and living. The other aspect to this was the non-resistance to the change in nomenclature since it was accompanied by the assumption, now broken, that merger with the Municipal Corporations would bring them the much needed basic amenities without which they had been struggling for long.

On this front, i.e. basic amenities, the people have learnt that merger with urban authorities does not bring them the basic amenities – education, healthcare, transportation, drinking water, sanitation and sewerage … and they have to remain at the same level and in the same situation as they were when they were ‘rural’. Moreover, this excuse, i.e. becoming urbanised will result in basic amenities, has been recognised to be spurious. Education, health, roads, transportation and communication are rights of every citizen and ought to be exclusive of ones urban/rural status. That the ‘carrot’ of ‘basic amenities’ has to be offered to people to ‘manufacture consent’ to the otherwise unpopular ‘land pooling’ mechanism shows up the poverty of ideas of political parties.

Further, in the absence of basic amenities, education, drinking water, health care, transport and communication, roads… many families which could afford to migrate to cities, seeking to better their and their children’s life prospects, did migrate to cities. Those that did not have the luxury of a viable occupation in the village also migrated out of distress, simply as a survival strategy. Effectively swelling the numbers of ‘urbanising population’!! No credit to anyone on any front.

This is to underscore the importance of differentiating between urbanisation as a chosen mode of life (open to anyone) and urbanisation which follows acute and systematically designed rural distress (targeted at certain groups which could be the ‘flavour of the time’ – farmers, dalits, adivasis, women…).

Questioning ‘Urbanisation = Development’

The people’s resistance and opposition to merger with urban development authorities in the various towns/cities of Gujarat is therefore showing up the simmering discontent with the government’s definition of ‘development’. Highways, fly-overs, shopping malls, multiplexes, residential enclaves, golf courses etc. constitute ‘development’ for the vocal middle-class and the government. However, these have no bearing on the ‘quality of life’ of the large section of the lower income groups, and the socially marginalised groups. This is precisely the gist of the opposition to the UDAs.

Smart Cities – no takers

On much the same lines, and for almost the same reasons, the first Greenfield smart city in Gujarat, the Dholera smart city, is also being resisted by the people of 22 villages in and around Dholera. Proposed in an area of 92,000 ha. (920 sq. kms.), which is an entirely agricultural area, this project is being vehemently opposed by the people of the area for whom this is an unacceptable proposition, one that is certain to destroy them – in every possible way.

*Development sector professional and an activist with Jameen Adhikar Andolan Gujarat (JAAG), Ahmedabad; **Sagar Rabari is an activist associated with the land rights struggles in Gujarat and India and is Secretary, Khedut Samaj – Gujarat, Ahmedabad


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