October 25, 2014
It is now official. A recent survey, quoting Gujarat government sources, has found that, despite loud claims, Gujarat would be suffering from a shortage of a whopping 65 per cent of the common village land, meant for grazing of cattle. Carried out by a team of activists working under the Maldhari Rural Action Group (MARAG), an Ahmedabad-based non-profit organisation, the survey was carried in 90 villages in three districts – Kutch, Patan and Surendranagar. The survey uniquely juxtaposed the spot analysis in each of the villages and the government data on gauchar – as the grazing land is identified – and found that there is not much difference between the two.
Quoting official government sources, the survey said, in the 30 villages of Nakhatra taluka of Kutch district, there should have been 24,880.8 acres of land for 65,317 cattle, if the official norm of 40 acre for 100 cattleheads is to be maintained. However, the survey found that only 2,736.1 acres of land existed as gauchar, suggesting a shortfall of 74.08 per cent. Based on interviews with cattle breeders or maldharis, the survey found that there was not much difference – the cattle breeders said, there should have been 24,448 acres land, while only 3,735 acres existed for 61,211 cattleheads.
The situation was found to be not very different for 30 villages taken up for survey in Shankheshwar taluka of Patan district, where, officially, there should have been 11,278 acres of gauchar land, though only 4,290.9 acres (or 37 per cent of the actual requirement) was available for 28,195 cattleheads. Similarly, in the 30 villages surveyed in the Patdi taluka of Surendrangar district, there should have been 10,180 acres of land, while only 5,083.23 acres (or 50 per cent) gauchar was available to feed 25,450 cattleheads. In Patan and Surendranagar district also, the surveyors did not find much discrepancy between official and maldhari figures.
A short analysis of the survey said that in none of the villages did the team found the norm of 40 villages per acre has been maitantained. “According to the complaints we received, most of the gauchar land has either been encroached upon by vested interests or has been illegally handed over for industrial or other commercial use”, the analysis said, adding, “We also found that that there has not been any land measurement of the area required for cattle in Gujarat villages. A spot survey needs to be carried out by the revenue department officials for this on a regular interval.”
The survey demanded that not only the norm of 40 acres of gauchar land for every 100 cattleheads should be maintained, efforts should also be made to ensure that encroachments are removed, so that the maldharis are able to eke their livelihood. “In fact, the government should initiate formation of maldhari committees in each village for this”, the analysis said, adding, “Lack of common village land for grazing purposes is one of the reasons why the problem of stray cattle has come into existence.”
The analysis sought to blame dominant sections of two important communities of – Patel and Darbar – for cornering and encroaching upon most of the gauchar land. “Grasslands were either encroached upon either by the dominant sections of the two communities or by people having farms next the grasslands”, it said, adding, “The government has not allacated land to the landless, and instead allowed it to pass it on to powerful persons. The situation is that 80 per cent of the Kadamm community in Kutch and Surendranagar districts have been rendered landless. And those who have been allocated land, it is mostly not irrigable.”
Meanwhile, senior activists believe that Kutch's maldharis have suffered the most because of post-2001 killer quake industrialisation, in which entrepreneurs were given huge concessions to set up shop. Talking to Counterview, a representative from the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, who participated in a recent Asian activists' meet in North Gujarat, said that a separate survey of Mundra taluka, where the Adanis have set up a modern port and a special economic zone, suggested that in as many as 11 villages all gauchar land has disappeared. “Plans to survey and provide land have not been successful either”, the activist added.