Cotton farmers get back water

Gujarat court stops work by company encroaching water body

By Bharat Lal Seth
Published: Saturday 30 April 2011

RESIDENTS of a village in Wankaner taluka of Rajkot district in Gujarat are celebrating a March 16 high court order directing release of water into a canal, that is their sole source of irrigation. The canal had dried up two years ago when Ajanta Infrastructure of Orpat group of companies started construction around a pond that fed the canal. The company is setting up a tourist resort spread over 40 hectares (ha).

The developer allegedly poured cement over a valve that regulated water flow. It was installed by the state to prevent any water diversion. For the past two seasons, residents of Garida village depended on rainfall for farming, and each year their cotton crops failed. In the village of 1,200 people, 90 to 100 are farmers who primarily grow cotton and wheat. “The Garida pond is less than a kilometre away. Since 1968 it has been our only irrigation source,” says Mustaq Baloch, who filed a public interest petition in the court, citing encroachment.

The developer had built a six-metrehigh wall around the pond restricting water diversion. The land had not been allotted at the time the residents filed the case in 2009, says Mukul Sinha, Baloch’s counsel. “The moment the state received notice of the public interest petition, it transferred the land to the company,” Sinha says. In December 2009, the court ordered the state counsel to obtain instructions from the department concerned as to whether any land was allotted to Ajanta Infrastructure.

In January 2010, it was brought to the court’s notice that the collector of Rajkot issued an order, a week after the court order, allotting 40 ha to the company. S J Mukhopadhaya, Chief Justice of the high court, said, “There appears to be undue hurry in land allotment when public interest petition notice was served in November 2009.”

Mukhopadhaya also noted the land had been given away at a throwaway price: Rs 2.05 crore. “After this, the court issued an interim order to the company prohibiting work.” Mukhopadhaya will give a decision on the land allotment on April 22.

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