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Agricultural land in Dholera SIR proposed to be reduced from 47 to 12%

By Rajiv Shah 
The proposed Dholera special investment region is likely to lead to large-scale changes in livelihood patterns, as and when the plan to convert the area into an industrial-urban hub succeeds.
The “Draft Environmental Impact Assessment of Dholera Special Investment Region (DSIR) In Gujarat” – prepared for the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation Ltd by the Senes Consultants India Pvt Ltd for environmental public hearing on January 3, 2014 – has suggested that there will be large-scale impact on the livelihood patter in the “sparsely populated” 930 sq km area, consisting of 22 villages, which will form the DSIR, and which is proposed to be converted into a modern industrial urban township over a period of three decades. The report says, “As per the land use/ land cover (LU/LC) studies carried out for Dholera SIR, highest LU/LC class is agriculture land, constituting 47.46 per cent of the study area, comprising of fallow land (39.97 per cent) or cropland (7.49 per cent).” It adds, “Agriculture is the predominant occupation of the study area population, and 62 per cent of the main workers are cultivators.”
However, this will change with the DSIR. With the new planning in place, agriculture will be reduced to 12.8 sq km (14 percent of the total site) area. The reason why this area is being “reserved” for agricultural use is, according to the report, because there is a need “to ensure food security and reduce ‘food miles’ that is, the distance that food has to travel before it is consumed.” In fact, the impact will be felt even in the transitional period, when the DSIR starts being developed. There will be “land pooling and readjustment and re-allotment of land to the farmers after provision of infrastructure/amenities.” In the process, only “large and medium farmers will gain” from “land pooling and readjustment.” As for others, who are unable to financially hold on to the land after development due to economic reasons, “will not benefit.”
The report explains, “DSIR is being developed using the town planning schemes wherein land is not acquired but land pooling and readjustment is done where the original land owners benefit from urban development.” The readjustment would be necessary, it believes, because “most of the land selected for DSIR is not very conducive for agriculture.” It says, while “agriculture is the main activity in the region”, it is also be fact that “due to highly saline, non-fertile soil, saline ground water and rain fed irrigation, the yield is very poor.” Hence, majority of the population in the region is “involved in sustenance agriculture”, and “there is negligible demand for industrial products.”
It further says, “The soil in the DSIR is deep black soil which due to its high salinity, which makes it unfit for cultivation. It is for this reason that agriculture in this region is primarily subsistence in nature. Moreover, there is perennial scarcity of water in this region which acts as a hindrance to agricultural activities. In absence of any industrial base in the region, majority of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture for their livelihood.” As of today, according to the report, “the farmers are dependent on rain fed irrigation for cultivating their agricultural lands”, and the “irrigated area within DSIR constitutes only 2.6 per cent of the total land.” The result is that, “the region falls under drought prone areas.”

Failure of Narmada Canal

A major reason for keeping the agricultural area under-developed, admits the report, is the “delay in the implementation of the canal network for irrigation for agricultural land in the DSIR villages”. It says, while the “villages in and around DSIR are included in the proposed command area of the Vallabhipur Branch Narmada Canal of the Sardar Sarovar Project”, it regrets, the delay in developing the command area has taken place because the “development of the canal network is proposed to be realigned and redesigned for the DSIR area.” In fact, it indidates, things are unlikely to improve soon. It says, “Construction of canal and irrigation network involves a long gestation period and therefore due to change in the same will result in time delays in providing irrigation to the DSIR villages.” The proposed realignment is taking a longer time due to the indecision on whether to supply “irrigation water from Narmada Canal through either piped supply or branched canals.”
Clearly, therefore, the report seeks to suggest, once the DSIR is developed, “traditional and subsistence agriculture currently practiced will be affected as the labour for such agriculture and traditional work will not be available due to increase in labour wages/ rates.” It adds, “Marginal or small farmers may not be viable as a livelihood or income source.” Only, “large and medium farmers will gain overall due to land pooling and readjustment”. In fact, “marginal workers who do not own land are amongst the most vulnerable to the changes brought about by urban development because they have no assets to sell and they will require particular help and assistance.” It adds, “The impact will be more on the landless and share croppers, the agricultural labourers who are dependent on land owners for their livelihood, compared to those who have large land holdings.”
As “traditional and subsistence agriculture currently practiced will be affected as the labour for such agriculture and traditional work will not be available due to increase in labour wages/rates in DSIR during the construction and post construction phase”, the report says, employment will not be dependent “only on natural resources”. Hence, only a regular income from others sources “is expected to improve the standard of living of the people.” It predicts, “Higher incomes associated with skilled and commercial activities will provide the local labour with opportunities to acquire new skills or update existing skills with a view to improve their incomes”. Out-migration due to lack of opportunities is expected to be reduced and increase in in-migration due to creation of economic opportunities.”
Giving details of the current “occupational profile of the villages in DSIR area” in order to suggest why it would be necessary for people to move over from subsistence agriculture to urban-industrial occupations, the report notes, “As rain fed agriculture is one of the major occupation types in the project villages, size of land holding plays major role in determining the state of economic activities of families. Interestingly, while smaller land holdings (up to 10 bigha) were proportionately ranged between 11.8 to 12.9 per cent in three zones, the situation was different for larger land holders (i.e. > 50 bigha land). In coastal area the large land holders constitute about 10 per cent of total families while in outer zone it was about 17 per cent. In coastal villages 60 per cent households owned-up only 3.4 per cent of total land, the same was little higher in transitional (7.5 per cent) and outer (8.5 per cent) zones.”
Against this backdrop, the report insists, “The rain fed farming and livestock rearing are the two most dominating occupation of the majority of families. Farm labour and agriculture employee are also reported in quite a substantial number in many villages. Wood selling and charcoal making are the two opportunistic occupations for some families. Proportionally more numbers of families were reported engaged in dry land farming as we moved away from the coast. Thus, in the eight villages of inner coastal zone about 65 per cent families were engaged in dry land farming, which rises to 67 per cent in transitional zone and reached to the maximum of 79 per cent in the outer zone.”
As for fishing, the report says, “it is restricted mainly in the inner-coastal zone (17.7 per cent) and to certain extent also in few villages of transitional zones (1.2 per cent).” It adds, “Clearly, there are some patterns in adoption of different occupations that is controlled and driven by state and quality of natural resources. Natural resource based occupations, which include agriculture, fishery, livestock, charcoal, forest products, salt work etc. Nearly 45 per cent workers were found engaged as unskilled farm labour while 19 per cent workers were into crop cultivation. Among the villages, in Gorasu, Mundi and Cher, between 10 and 15 per cent of total workers were engaged in livestock rearing. Similarly, in Dholera and Zankhi villages 12 to 16 per cent of total workers were found engaged in fishing activities.”
People are also engaged in other occupations but they are much smaller in number. The report says, it was observed during the house listing survey that, while “agriculture and labour works are the two most important occupations of the people of the area”, it is was also found that “quite a substantial number of families indicated diamond works as their major occupation. Service (government as well as private), trading and small business are also prevalent in the villages. Majority of families with locked houses are actually migrated to either Bhavnagar or Surat or Ahmedabad for various other works. These absentee houses are significantly contributing to the economy of these villages.”

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