Maldhari Land Struggle, Gujarat
The Maldhari’s are a nomadic community in Gujarat whose main source of livelihood is cattle rearing. As a result, they depend on pastoral land, which is of prime importance for animal husbandry. In Gujarat, pasture land covers 5,77,284 ha of the total area. Of this, 22,354 ha is encroached upon by government institutes,
industries, and other powerful interest groups. Due to increasing pressure on these lands in Ahmedabad district the Maldhari community is now running out of place for its livestock.
The privatisation of pastureland has lead to the migration of Maldhari’s to urban cities to work as domestic or unskilled industrial labour. They often migrate with their cattle, which occupy space on the road and in housing societies too.
On a complaint filed by some people, the Gujarat high court took suo motu cognisance of the cattle menace in the city and served notices to all civic bodies including the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) directing them to submit an area wise compliance report as well as an action plan to curb the problems. On November 3, 2004, a government resolution (GR) also directed catching stray animals, filing of police cases and imposing penalties on cattle owners. On the basis of this GR, AUDA started catching animals in 43 wards and 77 villages of Ahmedabad city. This drive by AUDA directly hit the livelihoods of the Maldhari community.
The AMC also declared an affidavit curbing the rights of Maldhari’s and placing conditions on their habitation in urban spaces. Manav Kalyan Trust, a Gujarat based NGO, took up the issue in September 2004 and organised the affected
Maldhari community against the actions of AUDA and the AMC. They demanded that the conditions in the AMC affidavit be renounced.
The Maldhari Sangathan was formed. Among the several actions it took were holding meetings, rallies and protest marches. A petition was submitted to the AMC
and on October 15, 2004, a rally was organised from AMC to Gandhinagar. The police arrested almost 700 Maldhari people who participated.
In spite of a state government order of 1973 that provided for 40 acres of pastureland to be allotted by the state per 100 animals per village, these lands were sold off to private parties. Based on this order, the Manav Kalyan Trust filed a petition in the Gujarat high court, on October 26, 2004, against the AMC affidavit.
The high court ordered submission of details of the common lands in 77 villages in Ahmedabad district (from where these communities hailed). In response, the revenue department submitted the details of the 1955 survey settlement. The high court disapproved the details submitted by the department and asked for data regarding the availability of land in the area (villages which are under AUDA), the purpose for which land is in use, and also the encroachment statistics. In its petition MKT also pointed out that the AMC had no plan for rehabilitating Maldhari’s in its urban development plan.
The high court directed that the concerned authority make rehabilitation plan for Maldhari’s and also suggested that MKT should participate in detailing these
plans. Along with the Maldhari community’s right to pasture land, another land issue taken up by MKT was of tribal land rights in villages of Sabarkantha that were
submerged in the Dharoi dam. MKT is a member of the state level network of 70 organisations that is advocating these issues at the state and national level.
On one hand there is the struggle to maintain commons as commons, on the other is the dimension of distribution of wastelands (apart from ceiling surplus and
temple lands) for cultivation by the landless poor. This has been a major demand of many movements especially those of Dalit rights in some states.