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Proposing a green world order

Jun 22, 2009

The Green Economic Zones proposed by tribal communities in Indian state of Gujarat will spur developmental activity without having to destroy the biodiversity and local livelihoods. Promoting self-sufficiency, the concept is nothing short of a revolutionary alternative to Special Economic Zones, writes freelance journalist Harmony Siganporia.

The Adivasi communities of Gujarat are advocating for a novel counterpoint to the brutality inherent to the Special Economic Zone. An idea they call the ‘Green Economic Zone’ (GEZ) addresses the wants in the SEZ model that the adivasis have long demanded.

“Any form of development which does not have for its foundation the concepts of sustainability, ecological sensitivity and an ingrained understanding of the cultural roots of a people, is genocidal by definition,” says Dr Ganesh Devy, founder of Bhasha, an NGO working towards the development of adivasis and founder-director of the seminal Adivasi Academy at Tejgarh, Gujarat.

The GEZ is Devy’s brainchild, something that he conceptualised two years ago, unlike any model of its kind in the world.

Pro-people concept

Although much yet needs to be fixed in terms of the exact parameters and definitions that qualify a space to become a GEZ, it is a move towards chalking a proposal for a pro-people, self-sufficient way of life and gain a legal stamp of approval on it, so that the set of villages never face the threat of having to be taken over by a corporate SEZ.

Almost utopian, the idea is to ramp up agricultural activity to the fullest, use organic fertilisers, promote local industries and form market linkages – all without destroying the biodiversity and local livelihoods.

It has been almost a decade now since adivasis in 1,200 villages across the south and south-eastern belt of Gujarat started working to create a massive network of micro-credit federations.

“Similarly, they have been setting up their own foodgrain banks, water harvesting cooperatives, organic agriculture practices, and have set up and run informal centres of learning. The work began when a group of young adivasis met at Tejgarh in 2000 and resolved to make their villages free of hunger, indebtedness, exploitation arising out of illiteracy, and migration arising out of helplessness,” he explains.

This team of dedicated karyakartas has now decided to create several GEZs, eventually covering some 2,200 villages, which fall between the Tapti River in the south and the Mahi in the north, with the Narmada flowing in between.

What is striking about the GEZs is that unlike their namesakes, they do not seek to court either foreign investment or exploit natural resources. On the contrary, they are to be created strictly out of local resource and investment.

"The idea is to respect and integrate local custom and resource at every step of the way and create 100 percent employment for the people"

“We have, over the years, collected the seed capital we need to launch this initiative. The idea is to respect and integrate local custom and resource at every step of the way and create 100 percent employment for the people who live and work in these GEZs,” says Dr Devy.

Community initiative

This massive initiative was launched on 5 June 2009 at the Adivasi Academy in Tejgarh, the first of its kind for tribal studies. The assembled group of community workers, students and faculty of the academy, joined in their efforts by human rights activists, villagers, educationists, writers, theatre artists and other ‘green-development’ sympathisers from all walks of life, started on a week long march.

Over the course of the march, the group visited scores of villages spanning the region between Tejgarh and Vedchi, Rajpipla and Vankoda, Naroda and Rangpur. This march, lasting from June 5 to 12, was named Vivekshil Vikas Mate No Pravas (A march for wise and sound development).

Including all those who joined the march at various stages, the group numbered 1,800 persons.

At each stop along the route, the workers engaged with the villagers, sarpanches and local panchayats about the ideas behind the GEZ philosophy and how it would translate into employment and uplift their communities.

The movement urged panchayats to sign resolutions to show their solidarity to the cause. So far, panchayats of 130 villages have signed the resolution to help build a strong proof of acceptance.

“What Verghese Kurien and his ‘White’ Amul cooperative revolution achieved is what we hope to emulate.

Green revolution

The time has come for a ‘Green’ revolution, which needs necessarily to adopt the adivasi model of development. In its gentleness, this is the only form without an automatically inbuilt genocidal import,” stresses Dr Devy.

“We refuse to take our message to the people aggressively. We will approach them with respect, with samvedna — qualities which get sidelined easily in our overwhelming haste to become what is widely understood as being developed.”

Seventy percent of the 2,100 acres of area proposed for the GEZ is fertile land with crops of primarily corn, bajra and wheat. An average farmer owns 1.5 acres of cultivable land and earns Rs 25,000 per annum to feed his family of six today. The GEZ hopes that it will result in an income of at least Rs 40,000 per annum simply by boosting agriculture, irrigation and local industries such as papad making, vermicompost fertilizers and other small-scale enterprises.

But will the GEZ be based on a legal standing? Vipul Kapadia, a core member of Bhasha says, “That is what we are hoping for. We are readying ourselves with all the requirements so that the government will take us seriously.

” One thousand acres of land is the minimum land required for the approval of an SEZ. The 130 villages that have signed the resolution comprise a total area of 1,000 acres. The minimum funds required for an SEZ is Rs 10 crore, which they have through the SHGs (selfhelp groups).

“With these documents and a detailed plan for the GEZ, we will approach various government organisations. The planning commission and the ministry of tribal affairs will be the first bodies we will approach. Right now, we are still in the process of penning it all down. But the solidarity we have for this cause is unanimous,” he says confidently.

In a speech she gave just before the march, venerable author and social activist Mahasweta Devi said, “All my life I have searched for the ‘genuine’; that sentiment of selfless service which manifests itself in only a handful of us. In Ganesh [Devy] and the people at the Adivasi Academy, I stand vindicated.

"If the GEZ gains legal identity, it would pave the path for a new world order, the reigns of which will lie, finally, in the hands of the common man"

We are at a crossroads in space and time – there is anticipation in the air; it is as if we know that something big is either about to happen or give way disastrously.”

If the GEZ gains a legal identity, it would pave a path like no other, arousing hope in millions, that there can just be a new world order, the reigns of which will lie, finally, in the hands of the common man.

Source : Tehelka
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