Keep watch on foreign fund/hand involved in anti-Bechraji SIR agitation

By Japan K Pathak

Ahmedabad, DeshGujarat, 1 June 2013

With official documents in hand, in this series I am trying to narrate the details of crorepati non-government organizations functioning in Gujarat – author

A gathering of locals against proposed Special Investment Region(SIR) in Bechraji in north Gujarat organized/coordinated by left leaning NGOs received excellent coverage in the media. Some media friends went so far and described the scene on the ground as potential Singur!

The proposed SIR in Bechraji is important primarily because Maruti Suzuki company is coming here. The land where Maruti is going to build its car plant is clear and there’s no major controversy attached to that particular part of land. But only Maruti’s arrival will not be able to make significant impact in Gujarat. The presence of vendor factories that make automobile parts for Maruti cars will be equally important. And the concept of SIR is important for this big picture, involving a workforce of two-three lakh people, including hundreds or more Japanese people that are going to work there. For Japanese people, the govt has planned a new Japan township also, where Japanese people may feel home.

A few thousand locals, fearing immediate land acquisition by govt at “cheap rates” gathered couple of days back near Bechraji to protest the move. It doesn’t seem that this event took place from the bottom side. What appears is that the gathering took place from the top. The gathering it seems was an effort of a few left-leaning NGOs, which was just joined by locals.

The gathering was organized by one ‘Azad Vikas Sangathan’. We heard name of such organization for the first time. Perhaps this is a newly floated platform specially for this particular agitation. This is similar to recently floated ‘Kevadia Vistar Vikas Satta mandal Virodhi Manch’ in tribal Narmada district against Gujarat government’s move to acquire land to develop tourism near Narmada dam. One such organization has also been floated in Ahmedabad district’s Dholera region against land acquisition for development projects.

Going deep into the picture on surface, Lalji Desai is convener of Azad Vikas Sangathan, an organization against proposed Special Investment Region in Bechraji belt.

Lalji Desai runs foreign funded organization Maldhari Rural Action Group(MARAG) with his wife Neeta Pandya. “Activists” like Persis Ginwala, Sonal Mehta who were according to media reports present during the anti-SIR event at Bechraji are trustees of MARAG.

We have only couple of years data of foreign money transferred to MARAG’s Bank of India account(no.14335, Memnagar branch, Vijay char rasta, Ahmedabad), according to which, in year 2009-10 foreign fund of Rs. 16440994.00 was transferred to MARAG from Canada and Italy. Some other fund was transferred through India based foreign agencies. MARAG received Rs 87,47,350 from Italy, Rs 70,68,105 from India branches of foreign organizations and Rs 6,02,100 from Canada. All fund was sourced for the purpose of “rural development”.

In year 2010-11 Lalji Desai’s organization MARAG received Rs 1,12,66,365 in same bank account described above. While the sum of Rs 10,99,875 was received from Canada, the rest of the foreign fund of Rs 1,03,47,074 was sourced through Indian branches of foreign organizations such as Child Relief and You, Save the Children and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. We generally believe that Indian branches of ‘Save The Children’ and ‘Child Relief and You’ bring foreign funds to India for the benefits of children, but these organizations transferred funds worth millions to MARAG for the purpose of “rural development” according to official documents.

In early 2002 in this Catholic news report, Lalji Desai was described as activist. He was described as Human right activist in another article. In one more article he was described as Maldhari activist. For last few years Lalji Desai is described as an activist from MARAG organization. Last year, just before the assembly elections, Lalji Desai, Gagan Sethi(Jan Vikas), Shabnam Hashmi(Anhad), Swami Agnivesh, Kanubhai Kalsaria and Sanat Mehta held a meeting at St. Xaviers campus in Amdavad to discuss political situation.

Moving on from Lalji Desai, another person associated with anti-SIR agitation according to a media report was Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group(AWAG) head Ilaben Pathak. Year 2006-07 document shows that during that year AWAG’s A/c No. 924 of Bank Of Maharashtra recevied foreign fund of Rs 1,21,78,629. I have not the details from other years, but during this year, almost entire foreign fund was transferred to AWAG through foreign agency OXFAM’s India office.

Media reports suggest that Paryavaran Mitra’s Mahesh Pandya was also present at the agitation venue. This Paryavaran Mitra is a project of foreign funded NGO Jan Vikas according to Jan Vikas website. More details on foreign funding to Jan Vikas are available on this link. Just for fun, here on this link is a video of Mahesh Pandya predicting that Modi would taste defeat in year 2012 assembly election. Pandya’s funny observations and predictions are visible in this video.

It is interesting to note that in year 2009, when farmers of Sanand protested against govt move of land acquisition, none of these NGOs extended help to them, perhaps because the land was being acquired for auto companies from Europe and America – the church attached countries from where these NGOs attract huge foreign funds. I personally had visited around half a dozen villages of Sanand-Viramgam belt where agitating farmers had stopped sending their children to schools protesting against proposed land acquisition by govt, but I never found some NGO leading/coordinating it. It was original grass root bottom up agitation! And it ended when govt paid more for land. But as proposed Bechraji project has Japanese stakes involved, possibly for that reason, the left-leaning NGOs are over enthusiastic. So is there a Chinese influence? Need to check. And is there a foreign hand? Can’t deny.

Previous article in this series: AIDMI:Crorepati NGO of SEWA fame Elaben Bhatt’s son