Apr 26, 2010
Despite laws already in place to protect farmers and villagers rights, there has been a continuous attempt to acquire fertile agricultural land for setting up Special Economic Zones. A two day People’s Audit of SEZs held in the Indian capital discussed issues on livelihood loss and the adverse social impact.
New Delhi, India: “Village owns the land”! These were the words of the villagers from the Indian state of Maharashtra who gathered along with activists, students, academicians and several grassroots organisations from various parts of the country on the issue of People’s Audit of Special Economic Zones in India’s national capital on 19 and 20th April.
Ulka Mahajan, from Jagatikikaran Virodhi Kruti Samiti, a noted social activist from Maharashtra delivered the inaugural address and highlighted the adverse impact of neo-liberalisation on human lives.
She said “land for public purpose is being grabbed and illegally encroached by the corporate”.
Lamenting over the government’s policies on SEZs she said “public and democratic processes in last few years have also contracted.”
Presenting the state overview of Special Economic Zones in Maharashtra the state with the largest numbers of Special Economic Zones in the country, she demanded “SEZ law should be repealed”.
She also indicated to a parliamentary standing committee report where it has underlined the citizen’s demand for a moratorium on further approvals of SEZs till an independent review of the functioning SEZs is not conducted.
Talking about the tax concessions given to corporate houses (SEZs) she pointed to a report of Maharashtra Public Accounts committee where it says “state government is making loss of nearly 70 thousand crores”and deposed on the complex nexus between district administrations, police and corporate houses in facilitating the land acquisition.
Sister Cinderella from Gorai discussed land acquisition that was initiated by developers Pan India Paryatan Ltd. for 5740 hectares on Dharavi Island.
Social activists from Maharashtra Vinay and Charul questioned the murder of Lalit Mehta, a Right to Information activist. They also questioned “why a farmer and labour who works hard to build Parliament and Taj Mahal should sleep at Footpath”
Farmers, activists and fishermen from various states narrated their stories and presented testimonies in front of the national audit panel. Prashant Bagade an activist from Karla, Pune where Mahindra and Mahindra was setting up its SEZ said companies make big promises but never keep them.
A farmer from Nagpur said that in a people’s referendum 96% voted against SEZ, but government diverted land to Reliance Industries.
Presenting his testimony, state–level panelist and Dean of IIM-Bangalore Professor Trilochan Sastry said, “A few individuals make laws and policies, completely ignoring the opinions and needs of ordinary farmers and workers in the country. They have to be exposed, or they have to be removed.”
Manshi Asher, a social activist and researcher from Gujarat presented the state overview and stated that the state portrays a false image of success of SEZs as many of the SEZs were already in place before SEZ Act was implemented. She alleged industrial corporations of most of the states are being used for land grab .
Testimonies from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa and various other states were all disturbingly similar in their narratives.
Case after case deposed on how District Officials forged signatures, opened fake accounts and transferred the compensation amounts which villagers' had refused to take the same.
Narendra Parmar from Himachal Pradesh spoke of women and their integral role in resistance movements against SEZs. He questioned on the pattern of development pursued in the country.
The national people’s audit panel consisting noted journalist Kuldip Nayar, Retiered Admiral Ramdas, K B Saxena, Ashish Kothari, Meher Engineer, Vrinda Grover, Devaki Jain and actor Rahul Bose made a preliminary observation after hearing social activists, state level members of people’s audit panel and people’s testimonies and recommended:
“The SEZ Act should be immediately repealed. All consideration of pending applications should be stopped forthwith. All SEZs given approval so far (notified or in principle), should be reviewed through a participatory public process. Where local community consent is not obtained, they should be withdrawn.
Where they are to continue, they should be subject to all environmental, labour, tax and other laws of the country, converting them to normal industrial estates, and taking back the excess lands”.