In the small town of Kodinar, Gujarat, the cement industry is marred by corruption and violence. Local farmers are in a battle for their rights. Environmental issues include dust emissions, water contamination and land acquisition. There are continuous court battles. In 2010, Dinu Bogha Solanki, the head of several local limestone quarries that feed these cement companies was found guilty of the murder of an environmental activist and sentenced to life in prison. He still runs local businesses and is out of jail pending an appeal. In May 2022, the Adani Group acquired Ambuja Cements at Kodinar, and group founder, Gautam Adani, has been photographed allegedly doing business with Solanki.
On 15 May 2022, the Adani Group acquired the stakes of the Swiss conglomerate Holcim (the largest cement maker in the world) in two companies, Ambuja Cements and ACC, making Adani the second-largest cement manufacturer in India. Despite reports that Adani's bid was lower than those of two other bidders, the Group managed to secure the deal by crafting an offer outside of India. This approach allowed for no payment of capital-gains tax by Holcim and reduced regulatory risks.
The Adani Group's acquisition of Ambuja and ACC gave it command of 13% of India's cement market. UltraTech, part of the Aditya Birla Group, still leads with a 25% share. Adani has assumed leadership of a burgeoning cement empire with an impressive manufacturing capacity of 70 million tonnes per year across 23 cement factories, 14 grinding stations, 80 ready-mix concrete plants, and a network of over 50,000 distribution partners throughout India. Read more about the deal here.
Ambuja Cements is located in a small town named Kodinar in the Gir Somnath district of Gujarat, India. This region is pock-marked by limestone quarries.
Several mines in the area are owned by Dinu Bogha Solanki, a friend of Home Minister Amit Shah, and a former BJP member of the Legislative Assembly.
Maheshbhai Makwana, a local campaigner who uses right-to-information laws, told this correspondent that ‘Ambuja is supplied with raw materials such as limestone by Solanki’s mining operations’. Other local sources backed up this statement. The Indian Express has reported that Solanki ‘benefited immensely from a cement factory set up by Gujarat High Tech Cements and subsequently by Ambuja Cements in the 1980s’, eventually getting contracts with the factory. Images of Solanki allegedly doing business with Adani have circulated on social media.
The limestone quarries are also located in close proximity to Gir National Park, a wildlife sanctuary that is the habitat of Asiatic Lions. This has prompted numerous individuals and organisations to voice their concerns about the quarries’ potential impacts on the sanctuary and its wildlife.
One individual who was challenging the limestone mining in the courts was Amit Jethwa. Jethwa, an activist operating in the Kodinar Taluka (a subdivision of a district), was dedicated to addressing environmental and social-justice concerns. In his work, he made great use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which outlines the regulations and procedures that safeguard citizens' access to information. According to the New York Times, Jethwa discovered that 55 illegal quarries were operating in and around Gir National Park, and that Solanki’s name appeared in the paperwork associated with many of these operations. As far back as 2008, the New Indian Express reported that Solanki had been accused of letting loose ‘a reign of terror’ in Kodinar.
Jethwa was brutally murdered in broad daylight in front of the Gujarat High Court on 20 July 2010. Later that year, Solanki and six others were reported as being found guilty of taking Jethva's life, the motive being to quash Jethva’s crusade against unlawful limestone mining. Solanki was sentenced to life in prison. Despite this conviction and sentence, Solanki has managed to continue his operations and wield his influence over Kodinar. He has also filed an appeal with the Gujarat High Court to have his life imprisonment suspended and has been out on bail since 2021.
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After his conviction for murder, Dinu Bogha Solanki has been observed on social media platforms, engaging in meetings with Gautam Adani, the founder and chairman of the Adani Group, and sharing the stage with India's Home Minister, Amit Shah, on multiple occasions. Members of the Solanki family, many of whom are affiliated with the ruling BJP party, have previously occupied government positions and still wield significant influence within the Gir Somnath district.
Local residents' struggles and legal action due to environmental impacts
Within the cement industry, dust emissions arise from processes such as the handling of raw materials, limestone crushing, kiln combustion, clinker manufacturing and storage and cement finishing. Utilities such as the coal mill and power generators also generate emissions.
Dineshbhai Solanki (no relation to Dinu Solanki), aged 41, a farmer and a resident of Kodinar who previously served in the mechanical branch of the Ambuja Cement factory on a contractual basis, has encountered severe dust-related issues on his farm. Based on the details shared with the author, it is required that the Ambuja cement factory should implement dust-collection systems in their facilities. However, Dineshbhai alleges that there are many instances where this is not carried out properly, leading to the dispersal of dust into the atmosphere and the factory’s surrounds. Where this dust accumulates in nearby farmlands, both water quality and plant growth are adversely impacted.
Dineshbhai's friend, 45-year-old Nazabhai Gadhe, a farmer, who has also been employed at the Ambuja Cement Factory, has suffered issues arising from contaminated water resulting from the discharge of factory waste materials into the land. This pollution ultimately infiltrated neighbouring wells.
Along with other Kodinar residents, they collectively approached the Ambuja Cement factory for negotiations. Instead, their efforts resulted in about half a dozen people being charged with civil suits by Ambuja. In response, Dineshbhai and Nazabhai decided to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Kodinar court. The original suit was filed in the month of August and the next hearing is scheduled for 22 December 2023.
Dineshbhai, initially hesitant to share his story, later divulged that someone claiming to be an environmentalist had approached him after seeing the impact of dust on his fields. Unfortunately, Dineshbhai learned that the individual, who had posed as an environmentalist, allegedly received benefits from Ambuja Cements and then disappeared, never to be heard from again.
On 5 June 2023, World Environment Day, Kiritsinh Jitubha Rana, the Cabinet Minister responsible for Forest, Environment, Climate Change, Printing and Stationery in the Government of Gujarat, and a member of the ruling BJP, visited Kodinar to engage with the public. Following the minister's speech, Dineshbhai took the opportunity to raise his concerns about pollution and water rights with the minister. According to Dineshbhai, the minister pledged to provide employment opportunities to affected residents in Kodinar, a promise that remains unfulfilled to this day.
Mining, water and violence
Maheshbhai Makwana from Kodinar, a dedicated RTI activist with two decades of active involvement and a member of the opposition Indian National Congress, has faced life-threatening attacks throughout his life for working against illegal mining in Kodinar and nearby areas. The most recent assault on him occurred in 2020, compelling him to seek protection from the court.
Maheshbhai alleges that, since 2014, rampant limestone mining has been occurring in the region without the necessary licences and certifications. He believes he can identify the primary suspect, who he also suspects orchestrated multiple assaults on himself and a journalist named Dinesh Joshi, whose shop and residence were set ablaze by assailants in 2006.
A 2013 report in The Times of India alleged that the Solanki family derived income from the illegal mining and supply of limestone to cement companies. According to Maheshbhai’s claims, Ambuja Cements, which was acquired by the Adani Group in 2022, is a major beneficiary of this allegedly unlawful limestone mining.
Maheshbhai further contends that when the Ambuja plant was initially established in Kodinar in 1986, its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stipulated that the plant would use desalinated water from the Arabian Sea. However, the factory has been using water from a local pond, which local farmers rely on for irrigation. This has become a significant point of contention between the factory and the local agricultural community.
Typically, limestone mining entails excavating a pit. In the past, when the mining operations were completed, the mined area was often left unrehabilitated, leading to incidents in which livestock and people accidentally fell into these pits. During the rainy season, these craters would fill with water. Local farmers began utilising the water from these ponds for irrigation during the dry season. Subsequently, disputes arose when Ambuja allegedly restricted access to water from the ponds.
After the completion of mining, Ambuja surrendered its own mines or pits to the Gujarat Government’s irrigation departments to avoid liability for such accidents. And in order to allocate custodian rights and address water shortages, the Government of Gujarat introduced a scheme involving the establishment of a committee responsible for overseeing designated ponds and defining equitable usage policies.
Based on information available to the author, it appears that no such committee has been established for the Kodinar pond. This absence of a committee is exacerbating the tension between the factory and other water users.
Balubhai Sosa (53) is a social worker and the coordinator of Saurashtra Paryavaran Sanrakshan Parishad, an NGO operating in the coastal region of Gir Somnath district. He lives close to the Ambuja Cements factory. He has informed the author that he observes dust emissions from the factory occurring every evening after 8 pm, during a period when they are less likely to be detected by authorities and the public.
He goes on to allege that, in 2006, he was subjected to an attack for speaking out against unlawful water usage in the area. He explains, ‘Amit Jhetva was a friend, and I, too, suffered a severe beating. Fortunately, I was fortunate enough to survive.’
Kodinar's farmers rally against proposed railway project threatening farmland
Apart from the pressing concerns of pollution and water usage, the residents of Kodinar now face the imminent prospect of losing even more fertile farmlands to a proposed railway project.
Ramesh Barad, a leading voice in the local farming community, informed the author that Ambuja Cements is allegedly advocating for the construction of a railway line in their region. The 40-km proposed railway line is intended to connect the towns of Veraval and Kodinar.
‘Farmers from Kodinar contend that the proposed railway would not serve the interests of the local population, from whom the land is being acquired,’ Barad told the author. ‘They argue that there is no necessity for this new railway line since an existing line already connects these two points. They propose that upgrading the existing metre gauge line to a broad gauge would not only meet the transportation needs but also accommodate passenger trains, rendering the new project redundant.’
The Times of India has published a story in which farmers say that the rail project will affect 1500 farmers of 19 villages, with 400 of them losing all their agricultural land. They also argued that the railway line will alter the way in which river waters meet the sea, causing flooding of farms and villages.
Farmers have, at times, assembled to stage protests against the railway line and have also refused to allow officials to conduct land surveys.
The author is an independent journalist.