Vibrant Gujarat?: Traditional handicrafts village of Kutch under threat from proposed steel plant

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The people of around ten villages surrounding Dhamadka, Anjar taluka, district Kutch, are angry. They are protesting against the proposed steel project, which their leaders believe will mean threat to their livelihood. Reverberations of the protests were first heard during the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) public hearing organized at the village on February 4, 2014. “The gathered villagers were of the opinion that they are already facing a resource scarcity in terms of water and land, and the upcoming expansion of the plant with huge production capacity will destroy their meagre resources”, said Ajitsinh Jadeja, sarpanch, Dhamadka group panchayat.
In a statement, Jadeja said the people of Dhamadka would suffer the most. “Kutch, the last frontier of Gujarat, is world famous for its craft skills. The region is home to many thriving traditional arts and crafts which sustain a large number of livelihoods in the area. Dhamadka is a craft village, where Khatri artisans are practicing the hand block printing craft since last 10 generations, now faces the threat of a Steel Plant being set up in its backyard”, it said.
The statement underlined, “The village has a craft turnover of 20 crore through its more than 70 block printing units. There are thousands of craft lovers, designers, tourists that visit the village from all over the world, every year, to see, understand and purchase products made with this great cultural tradition that not only belongs to the village but also to the region, state and the nation.” 

Sarpanch Ajitsinh Jadeja speaks at public hearing
However, now, “the Dhamadka village and its traditional craft is facing threat from a steel plant which plans to extend its capacity on the revenue land of a village with survey no. 405/3, 406, and 407. The plant is intended to make products like MS Steel Ingots /Billets (six lakh tonnes per annum), MS Joists (two lakh tonnes per annum), TMT Bars/Angles/Channels (two lakh tonnes per annum) along with a coal fed captive power plant with capacity of 10 MW.”
“Once the steel plant and the coal fed captive power plant start functioning, it will have adverse effects not only on the artisanal practices of village but also the traditional occupations of agriculture and animal husbandry of the area”, the sarpanch pointed out, adding, “The pollution of the land and water will force them to abandon their traditional craft practices which currently support almost 700 artisans across Dhamadka Panchayat.”
Jadeja contended, “The pollution will create patches on the fabrics that are dried on the ground, and push water tables further down. Evidence suggests that the iron and coal dusts coming out of the plant will do irreparable damage to this thriving traditional craft and traditional occupational practices. The villages of Dhamadka were joined by farmers of 10 surrounding villages who gathered during the public hearing organized in the presence of YD Suthar, regional head, Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and district magistrate DB Shah.”
Construction work of the project in progress
He added, “The farmers protested against the company and exposed the borewells they had already dug despite the NOC given the condition that it will not use the ground water for its production purpose.“ At the meeting, Jadeja “provided all the details to the government officials present during the public hearing. They demanded an independent probe of the issue.” 
Jadeja said, in his bid to save the project, Manoj Jain, representing the company, “claimed that the company has started putting green cover around it and planted 1,500 trees. The artisans and farmers protested against these claims stating that there was not a single plantation undertaken by the Company, and that they were furnishing images of castor plants trees which were planted by local farmers in their fields.”
“The villagers gathered also provided details of the vibrant animal husbandry economy in the village due to the dairy movement by Sarhad diary. They feared that the environment pollution of this steel plant will affect the agriculture and animal husbandry adversely. Along with the farmers and artisans of surrounding villages, other village leaders present during the public hearing were Vastabhai of Dudhai, Vikrambhai and Rameshbhai Dangar of Kotda, Kanabhai of Chandrani, Ramdevsinh from Sukhpar and Navinbhai Patel of Sangamner. They all demanded firm and sensitive action from the district administration in the wake of the issues raised by them.”
 
 
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