Authority with punitive powers planned in Gujarat’s tribal district

Avinash Nair
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The Bill proposes to establish the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority or the SoU Tourism Authority. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

The Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Bill, 2019, proposed to be tabled in the ongoing winter session of the Gujarat Assembly, gives sweeping powers to a Statue of Unity Tourism Authority, an authority planned to be constituted to notify a designated area around the 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as an industrial township.

The authority will have powers ranging from acquiring land for any development project in the area, which is predominantly tribal, to taking punitive action against those violating it or encroaching it.

The Bill proposes to establish the Statue of Unity Area Development and Tourism Governance Authority or the SoU Tourism Authority (SoUTA). It aims to make necessary arrangements to develop the area and manage tourism in and around the Statue of Unity at Kevadia in the predominantly tribal district of Narmada in South Gujarat. Pointing out that around 30 million tourists visited the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 13 months since it was inaugurated in October 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the state government feels that it needs to expedite planned development to provide “secure and safe tourism”.

The authority will have representatives from various government departments, including tourism, forests and environment, roads and building, urban development and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), besides president of the Narmada district panchayat (a politically elected appointee). It will be headed by a chairman appointed by the state government and will be headquartered at Kevadia in Narmada district.

The authority will define the limits of the tourism development area and will be empowered to acquire immovable property under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. It will largely work as a local body that will prepare and execute a development plan or a town planning scheme, remove encroachments and provide civic amenities like water supply, transportation, power supply, drainage, hospitals, medical services, schools, public parks, markets, shopping places, disposal of waste, among others. The bill sets aside Rs 10 crore from the consolidated fund of the state for the discharge of functions and duties by SoUTA.

To protect the tourism area and to maintain it, the district police has been asked to assist the officers of the authority to enforce the provisions of the Bill, which is expected to be tabled in the Gujarat Assembly on Tuesday. The Authority, either on its own or acting on a complaint can prohibit “any nuisance being caused or prevent any such activity, process, operation being carried out,” if it opines that it will damage or deteriorate the “tourism potentiality” of the area.

“Expenses and costs incurred, if any, in removing or abating such nuisance, shall be recovered as an arrear of land revenue from the person who has caused such nuisance,” it says. Persons who fails to comply with directions given by the authority shall be punishable with imprisonment for up to a month or with a fine up to Rs 50,000 or both. The offence will also be treated as “cognisable and non-bailable”.

The punitive action in the Bill comes at time when local tribal organisations have been opposing the project built near the Sardar Sarovar dam, alleging they have lost their livelihood and land. The project drew opposition even on the day PM Modi arrived to inaugurate the project in 2018.

Persons authorised by the authority can enter any land or building between sunrise and sunset by giving its occupant a notice of at least 24 hours. Persons obstructing entry of authorised personnel will face punitive action, it says. The proposed Bill also prevents persons from begging, unauthorised hawking or engage in touting within the Tourism Development Area. Those violating the provisions may face imprisonment of up to one month or a fine of Rs 5,000 or both. Those acting as tourist guides without having a licence on conviction can be imprisonment for up to a month.

The Bill also shields the proposed authority and its members. It states that “no suit, prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the SoU Tourism Authority, other government companies, or any of their committees, members, officers and employees for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of the provisions of this Act or any rules or regulations made thereunder”. The proposed authority will also be empowered to create a “SoU Authority Fund” which will shall form of all money received by way of grants, loans, fees, development charges, etc.