The residents of Lothal, an Indus Valley settlement in Gujarat, lived a prosperous life, dealing in gold, jewellery and shipbuilding. The port town is a milestone in ancient Indian history, but, today, the only remnants of the once prosperous community are brick walls and a few precious beads in a museum.

However, the wheel of history is turning again.

About 40 km from Lothal, close to the ancient port town of Dholera, a 920 sq km region is being carved out to develop a new metropolis and global manufacturing hub.

The Dholera Special Investment Region (SIR), or Dholera smartcity, is being built under the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project. In its previous budget, the Modi government had made a provision of ₹1,400 crore for DMIC.

However, implementing the project has not been easy. A section of local farmers are not willing to part with their land, which in many areas is arid and saline, for the project. The State government is using a land-pooling mechanism to acquire land.

Bharat Chudasama, a local farmer from Dholera whose 6-acre arid land has been acquired for the project, says the compensation is not adequate. In spite of repeated agitations the Gujarat government is unyielding.

For several years now, local farmers have been requesting high-yield seeds from the State government, but this has been ignored.Soil salinity is high in the region, but no solutions have been found. Now, to add to the woes, the land is slipping away from farmers’ hands, said Chudasama.

Cumin farmer Anand Ravari echoes the sentiment. “Rather than turning agriculture land into industrial land, steps should be taken to reduce the salinity, so that high-yielding crops such as wheat or cumin can be planted over a larger area. A few government projects have been implemented to reduce salinity but they are not enough.

“Israel could make its desert bloom; why not in Gujarat?” he remarked.

The Gujarat government enacted the Special Investment Region (SIR) Act in 2009. The act provides the framework to acquire land and manage large investment regions and industrial areas in the State.

Farmer Ramdevsinh Chudasama, who hails from Bavliyari village 20 km from Dholera, terms the SIR Act draconian. It was used to acquire land that had been brought under the Narmada Command Area in 1962.

Narmada’s water never reached Dholera, and now the farmers have lost their land as well.

Boost to realty

Visiting Dholera, BusinessLine found that work for creating basic infrastructure has already commenced. Eight-lane roads with wide utility ducts are coming up. A large utility building, which will house the Central Integrated Operations Centre for ICT-driven control of the city, is under construction.

Alkesh Sharma, MD & CEO of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC), said 22.5 sq km of the first phase of the project is being developed, and should be ready by 2019. Major contracts, such as for drinking water supply and sewage disposal, have already been awarded.

The whole region of 920 sq km will be developed with the help of six town planning schemes. Of these, two schemes are already under implementation.

Due to developments in Dholera, land prices have started appreciating in the neighbouring areas. Local builders are buying land for housing projects. Aamani Space Ltd has a 3,000 acre land bank near Dholera. The company’s Cluster Head Jignesh Dani said it is in the process of developing eight projects around Dholera, of which three will be handed over to buyers by the end of this year. “Just like Dholera SIR, our project is also called Aamani SIR, where SIR stands for ‘superior investment return’,” Dani quipped.

Engineering firm Aecom’s Programme Director for Dholera SIR, Jagdish Salgaonkar, said projects worth ₹2,700 crore are under construction.

An expressway, metrorail and airport are also planned for Dholera.