Package to pluck SEZ land thorns…

New Delhi, March 7: A proposal has been mooted to confine special
economic zones (SEZs) to wasteland.
However, in states where acquisition of farmland is unavoidable, SEZs
should be allowed on the condition that wasteland would be upgraded
into cultivable land to ensure “food security”.
The proposals are part of a blueprint drawn up by the rural
development ministry, which has been asked by the Prime Minister to
work on a rehabilitation package for land acquisition for SEZs.
In a written submission to Murli Manohar Joshi, the chairman of the
parliamentary standing committee on industry, the ministry said: “SEZs
should be established preferably on wasteland… where use of
agricultural land cannot be avoided, single-crop land in rainfed areas
may be considered. In completely unavoidable circumstances, multi-crop
land may be used for strategic requirements.”
But it has added a rider that if farmland is taken over, there “should
be compensatory development of wasteland for the sake of food
security”. This, sources said, will form part of the rehabilitation
package that the ministry will submit to the cabinet soon.
The ministry’s submission, sources said, is believed to form “the core
principles on which it has drawn up its report”.
If the cabinet accepts the suggestions, investors who have proposed
SEZs in Bengal will be among the beneficiaries. According to state
government data, only 0.5 per cent of land in Bengal is fallow – which
makes the use of farmland, including multi-crop land, for SEZs
The fate of at least eight proposals for SEZs, including two from the
Salim Group, is hanging in the balance now as the Centre has slammed
the brakes, pending the rural development ministry’s rehabilitation
In the note to the standing committee, which is preparing an
independent report on SEZs for Parliament, the ministry stressed that
there should be a state-wise balance in distributing SEZs to avoid
regional disparities.
The suggestion is seen as an indictment of the manner in which SEZ
proposals have been approved till now. States like Gujarat and Andhra
Pradesh have 19 and 45 formal approvals, respectively, covering some
10,682 hectares and 9,460 hectares. But the Northeast does not have a
single clearance.
The ministry has suggested the creation of “a list of activities that
may not be allowed on SEZs, e.g., setting up of golf courses or other
such facilities with large land requirements”.
An official said the government felt that allied activities could
include communication facilities, airports and employees’ quarters
“but not malls and housing estates for non-workers and stadia.

Protest march against sucides by farmers, SEZs

Madhur Tankha

Activists demand creation of a Zero Hunger Act

NEW DELHI: Members of Youth for Justice, Kisan Log Abhiyan and MCKS Food
for Hungry Foundation jointly staged a march at Jantar Mantar here on
Sunday protesting against the continuing farmers’ suicides.

Wearing masks, the protesters holding banners like “The Constitution
Guarantees Me Right to Life Yet Death Haunts Me All The Time” shouted
slogans against the United Progressive Alliance Government’s policies
that were leading to lack of livelihood for farmers across the country.
They called for a Zero Hunger Act.

Claiming that the Haryana Government had sent notices to farmers of
Rewari to hand over their agricultural land for Special Economic Zones,
Kisan Lok Abhiyan State president Dinesh Joshi said: “We don’t mind
giving barren land, but parting with fertile agricultural land for big
multi-national companies is quite unreasonable.”

Stating that he had received a notice from the State Government to
vacate his agricultural land, Lal Singh Yadav of Haryana said he grows
“bajra” and mustard in his 10 acre agricultural land but will now be
left with no option but to hand over his ancestral land to the
administration. “At least farmers should have the right to decide
whether they want to sell their land nor not. And the price paid to us
by the administration is pittance.”

Sharing their concerns, a number of Delhi University students under the
Youth for Justice banner marched with the farmers. Stating that they
interacted with farmers of Vidarbha, Youth for Justice representative
Kapil Mishra said the youth and the farmers had come on a common
platform to awaken the Government so that it comes out with a
farmer-friendly budget.

Demanding separate packages and waving off loans for farmers in all the
affected districts, Mr. Mishra said organic farming should be encouraged.

“Since 1997, over 25,000 farmers across the country have taken their own
lives. The worst affected places are Warangal, Amravati, Vidarbha,
Karimnagar and Nizamabad. Even though we are boasting of 8 per cent
economic growth, the grim fact is that our farmers are committing
suicide. This means our policy-makers need to change their approach
towards running the economy,” said Mr. Mishra.

Besides travelling to Vidarbha next week in March for a first hand
experience with the situation prevailing in the rural areas, Youth for
Justice members will visit Capital’s Connaught Place and Ansal Plaza
every Sunday to distribute pamphlets to make Generation X aware of the
farmers’ plight.

NHRC issues notice to centre on land acquisition act…

New Delhi, Feb. 26 (PTI): The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notice to the Centre on a petition seeking amendment in the “out-dated” Land Acquisition Act 1894, which it alleged was being used “arbitrarily” against farmers to grab their land.

The petitioner P Pullarao, an economist from Andhra Pradesh, moved the Commission alleging that in the past three years many acres of land has been acquired under the Act, displacing over 10 million farmers across the country in the name of development.

“No explaination is being given by the state governments or officials. The land is taken away using the Act. Farmers are thrown away from their villages without ensuring them any proper rehabilitation,” he said.

Pointing out “flaws” in the current land acquisition procedure, he said, “the District Collector issues a notification of land acquisition. It is then followed by revenue officials giving notice of vacation from the property.”

While drawing the attention of the Commission to the various provisions under Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which does not allow any public hearing on the issue of land acquisitions, Pullarao said it amounts to human rights violation.

Terming the Section 3 (2) of Chapter II titled “Establishment of SEZ” as a “bully” act on the part of the government, Pullarao has sought intervention of the NHRC in the matter.

The section states that “any person who intends to set up a SEZ may after identifying the area make a proposal to the state government concerned for the purpose of setting up the SEZ”.

In Andhra Pradesh, alleged Pullarao, the officials had been grabbing the land by forcing the farmers to voluntarily accept the compensation whatever decided by them.

Seeking suspension of the land acquisition Act, the petitioner has urged the NHRC to direct the Ministry of Rural Development to amend it in a “sensitive manner.”

Taking cognisance of the complaint, the Commision has also issued notice to Andhra Pradesh to submit the factual report in the matter within six weeks.

The rights of displaced people…

Dr Sandeep Pandey

The Government of Andhra Pradesh has acquired 340 acres of village common lands, 70 acres of temple lands from the Endowments Department and 500 acres from the local Gram Panchayat – China Mambattu of the Tada Mandal in Nellore District to set up a Special Economic Zone here. Some private industrialists have purchased another 100 acres of agricultural lands in the vicinity. 400 acres of the SEZ have being given to Apache to set up a shoe factory.
Three hamlets of the panchayat, N.M. Kandrika, China Mambattu and Peda Mambattu are being affected by this SEZ. There are weavers, shepards, barbers, washer men and women and Yanadi tribals living in these villages. The most vulnerable among these are the Yanadis because they do not have any land ownership making them ineligible to receive any kind of compensation in lieu of the displacement caused by the SEZ. The question of such communities and their livelihoods which are non farm based and dependent on natural resources and Community Property Resources is the most crucial one here.
Bandi Polamma, a member of the Yanadi community says that because of the land being sold they are losing their daily wages. The water bodies too are either being taken over by the company or are being polluted as a result of which fishing is becoming increasingly difficult as a livelihood option. Apache is setting up a fence which is making it difficult to access the forest which was a source for firewood. The tribals used to earn a part of their income by selling firewood. Hence the life and livelihood of this community is getting seriously affected due to the setting up of the shoe company here.
The local community facing displacement was promised jobs, education for their children, etc. However, it turns out that all promises were false. The displaced people have been left to fend to for themselves. Only two women have got sweeper’s job in the Apache shoe factory! The people feel let down and are in a public hearing organized in Nellore on 31st January, 2007 by Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union and Andhra Pradesh Matsyakarula Union they have expressed their intention to wage a struggle for their basic rights. Earlier a public hearing organized by the Government on 6th January turned out to be a sham as no people were allowed inside the hearing.
The people are demanding that every family displaced by the SEZ must be provided 2 acres of agricultural land with irrigation facility within the Panchayat limits, a housing site with low cost house built by the government, fishing nets worth Rs. 3000, one bicycle and a compensation of Rs. 10,000 per annum for the next 25 years.
At the same public hearing people from the Midderevu village of Muthukur Mandal of the same district also presented their woes. 1329.43 acres of land in three Panchayats, Krishnapatnam, Muthukur and Thamminapatnam is being acquired by the Government to set up Krishnapatnam Greenfield Port and Krishnapatnam Ultra Mega Power Project.
Midderevu village is next to Kandaleru creek and Bay of Bengal. Land along seashore is used for parking of boats, nets, catamarans, etc. People use common lands for grazing and firewood collection. They have also planted casurina in ten acres along the seashore. The village was hit by Tsunami and was only beginning to recover from the economic shock. In violation of the CRZ regulations, the villagers are being asked to cut the casurina plantation now. They are being asked to resettle at a distance of 7 km from the seashore and the local district collector has promised jobs for every youth.
180 families living in the village, including 20 Yanadi, mostly depend on fishing for livelihood. They are completely baffled by the idea of doing fishing from a distance of 7 kms. The fish move in groups and the colour of the sea is to be watched on a regular basis to determine when to begin the fishing operations. Parking of boats and gear would become a problem. In addition they would have to buy wood and fodder, imposing extra burden on their income. The people of Midderevu also face the dilemma of how to repay the Rs. 38 lakhs loan they had collectively borrowed from fish merchants in the post-Tsunami phase on the condition of supplying their catch.
People of Midderevu would not get any compensation because they do not own any agricultural land. Their traditional occupation has been fishing. But the existing legal framework doesn’t recognize fisher people’s right over the sea, for payment of compensation.
The people of Midderevu are determined in their resolve not to be displaced before the promises being made to them are fulfilled. They want that each family being displaced be given 2.5 acres of agricultural land, house constructed for them with a cost of Rs. 1 lakh, a compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs for forgoing fishing (rights) on the sea and adequate compensation for all plantations in the households and along the sea. Collectively they want repayment of Rs. 38 lakhs loan by the government on their behalf to the fish merchants, construction of fishing harbour for safe parking of boats and gear and provision of basic infrastructure like roads, drinking water, electricity, schools and community hall, etc, at the resettlement and rehabilitation site.
The demands being made by the people of China Mambattu and Midderevu are quite legitimate considering that most of the families may be forced to completely alter their lifestyles and livelihood options. The respective compensation package being demanded in the two cases will at least ensure that the families will have a one generation cushion to rehabilitate and resettle themselves. But since the authorities are not known to be very sympathetic to the people facing displacement in such cases, it is unlikely that the demand will be met easily. However, as increasingly more and more communities are awakening to their traditional rights under threat from modern development projects, in particular, and their human rights, in general, they are throwing up more resistance all over the country. The Government will ignore these democratic resistances and demands at its own peril.
Dr Sandeep Pandey

(Dr Sandeep Pandey is recepient of Dr Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002, and is a reputed social activist leading National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Human Rights (PUHR). He had co-founded Asha in 1991 in Berkeley California, after which he returned back to teach at India’s premier engineering institute (IIT Kanpur). He is presently actively engaged in strengthening people’s movements across the country, and can be reached at:

Orissa: ThrottledDissent, Overstepped Laws, Displaced People

Orissa: Throttled Dissent, Overstepped Laws, Displaced People

Saswat Pattanayak

Here is a classic case of manufactured consent.
News is agog that India will have its Harvard University in next two years. Even Forbes Magazine testifies to that. The corporate media hails a proposed university in India to be the greatest hope of reified vision where huge mass of people will be educated for betterment of India’s economy; and, its poor state Orissa’s. It is being hailed as the institute that’s receiving the single largest donation ever worldwide: $1 billion, and yes its going to be the university with largest real estate holdings ever. So welcome to capitalism that apparently does good, through capitalists that claim to be philanthropists of great cause.
Are there any protests against the university? Hardly any. Who would protest establishment of a first world standard university in a third world standard country? Instead, there is huge celebration of this proposal, of a one billion dollar charity. It’s a poor peoples’ world, and free money counts. The donor, Anil Agarwal is being hailed as a messiah of sort whose generosity is redefining cannons of capitalism. ‘Let them eat cake’ is after all being replaced by ‘Let us serve them’!

The esteemed Chronicle of Higher Education has been publishing features to highlight Vedanta, and last week, it has advertised the vacancy positions, including that of a Provost and Chief Academic Officer. US-based Ayers/Saint/Gross Architects have been hired to design the Harvard clone. 8,000-acres of land are being earmarked for this gigantic project (Harvard has only 4,938 acres). In other words, the largest ever education project in the world is underway already.
The Corporate Charity for Profits Syndrome:
Last week, a LA Times investigation excavated how the richest man in the world Bill Gates evades taxes through his philanthropies. In fact, worse, his Gates Foundation invests 95% of its worth on industries that defeat the purpose of its 5% charity causes.
How much does Anil Agarwal, the 245th richest person in the world emulate the club chair? Totally. It appears, he fails to escape the capitalistic dictums: the crude greed in sophisticated pill. Proponent of the later stage of feudalism, landgrabbing capitalists have been targeting Africa and Asia for their wealth accumulation. And ironically, they have been employing causes such as AIDS and education as excuses to divert the public attention from the real issues: exploitation of resources, harassment of indigenous peoples, and murders of activists.
Behind the euphoria that outlines a $1-billion charity of Agarwal for the proposed university, lies the three years of vehement protests of thousands of indigenous/tribal people who are being inhumanly displaced a little distant away for a much larger corporate project that shall hamper the ecology and destroy livelihoods of local poor for the profits of the same bunch of profit mongers living in Britain.
The man who has promised to donate for university to educate people also happen to be the one who has been investing in nearby landmines to displace people and stake private ownership over public resources through suspect means. Only that, the dreams of furthering his landmining business would not advance if attempts are not made to eliminate the long prevailing popular resentments. And for that, the corporate house has taken shelter in some upper class intelligentsia that profits directly from a world-class educational institute in bargain. And this group of abettors comprises some high-profile educators inside India and outside of it, who have been impressing upon the media agencies to glorify this business house that funds their future abode.
The nexus between profiteering capitalists and kingpin professors also has complete consent from some political bigwigs and media business houses. All of them stand to benefit from a university that’s advertised as catering to upper class, upper caste youths of India who have had a remarkable private school education already, considering that the Vedanta University is to be based on “need-blind admissions”. So yes, in the most backward of states in India, only students with so-called ‘merit’ (implying most filtered students from urban school education) will benefit.
The Casualties of University:
I recently spoke with some activists participating in protests movements in Orissa against the Sterlite business expansions. The resentments are taking place at both the urban hotspots like Puri (near which the university is proposed) as well as in rural heartlands of Lanjigarh, Kalahandi (where the alumina project is underway).
Activists told me that at the university site, at least 20,000 people are affected by the project, whereas nearly a thousand are getting evicted. And yet, the business house is conducting press meets to send falsified numbers that the media are readily savoring. As per Ajit Kumar Samal, vice-president of the project, rehab packages are assured for all those going to be displaced. “The willing and educated persons of about 80 families, likely to be displaced, would be imparted capacity building training to absorb them in the project. We are ready to provide compensation amount as soon as the Government appoints a committee to fix the quantum” (The Pioneer, January 6, 2007). So, the number estimated by the Vedanta University stands at 80, from whom chosen few will be given compensation only after bureaucratic clearance. Of course, when it comes to affected people, the industries face bureaucratic hassles as well.
Adding more to the irony is the fact that with such billion-dollar promise quotes, the industry/government has succeeded in diverting the center of focus from Lanjigarh land scams to Puri as education site.

Smooth Operation:

For a business baron who, according to Forbes Magazine, “built his London-listed Vedanta Resources by acquiring state-owned mining and metal assets in India where main operations are located,” it was imperative that the protests of environmentalists and other activists be dismissed as routine hindrances in “developmental” path whereas the mass looting of home country resources for individual profit accumulation is planned out. Its as though, the onus on protecting the mother nature lies only with some professional environmentalists who need to be chided for receiving money from non-governmental organizations, whereas the greedy corporate houses’ demands be hailed all the while, for their skillful trampling down of peoples’ aspirations to hold onto their forest lands for their meager livelihood!
Vedanta Resources has already completed its 1.4 million tonne alumina project in Orissa’s Kalahandi district despite resistance. But the protest movements against its further plans to take siege of Niryamgiri Hill is continuing without much support of media or political outfits. Following the West Bengal model, even the state’s official communist parties have not reacted much apart from scantily registering protests against governmental repression. Only the Marxist-Leninist front of the left wing have come out to support the peoples’ causes. Lanjigarh at the first stage has already witnessed the $874 million project, but is unwilling to part with more of its sacred hills.
What’s shocking in the entire process is that in spite of mammoth popular opposition to the mining projects in Orissa, Agarwal’s Sterlite has managed to sign an agreement with the state Government under Naveen Patnaik to set up both the alumina refinery in Kalahandi as well as aluminum smelter and power plant in Jharsuguda. Subsequently it reached agreement with the Orissa Mining Corporation to jointly operate the Niyamgiri bauxite mines. The refinery is almost completed and the importing of bauxite through Vizag port has already started.
Not just that the majority people have no say in a plutocracy such as India, where the rich landgrabbers still rule the destiny of its poor, the private corporate houses also flout the laws of the lands to go to such extremes as displacing people and terming them as encroachers on their own lands. Not just the fact that such lands are illegal to be sold to non-tribals, but also the fact that Supreme Court appointed environment-empowered-committee has strongly disapproved of the project location, has not dissuaded the state government from its unholy alliance with the foreign firm.
Apart from its obvious anti-people repercussions leading to displacement of tribal groups, Lanjigarh has attracted ire of the Supreme Court of India and subsequently many environmentalists. As a result, Ministry of Environment & Forest has also recently issued directives to the Wildlife Institute of India to undertake studies related to the impacts of mining on biodiversity including wildlife and its habitat in the proposed Bauxite Mining area at Lanjigarh, Kalahandi as per the recommendations of the Forest Advisory Committee.
The findings, among other things suggested the following:

A) Bauxite from the Niyamgiri plateaus is proposed to be extracted through open cast operations. Various kinds environmental degradations and impacts are associated with this kind of mining. These are : geomorphologic changes, landscape changes, loss of forests; land degradation; loss of flora and fauna; loss of habitat; geo-hydrological and drainage changes; land vibration, shocks, blasting and noise; air quality reduction, water quality reduction; disruption of socio-economic dependencies and public health hazards etc.
B) Bauxite mining at Niyamgiri will bring several changes due to blasting and disturbances to the forested habitat over a period of 25 years. The mining plan proposes to have 3 working shifts of 8 h3rs each per day and 6 days per week. Working of the mine during night shifts would induce disturbances due to illumination of the Niyamgiri plateau area and pose disturbance to wildlife species more specifically the nocturnal animal. The illumination may restrict movement and habitat use and reduce occupancy and utilization by several species. This situation eventually will reduce elephant movements across Niyamgiri massif to Karlapath and Kotagarh Wildlife Sanctuaries and ultimately effect the population structure and there by its genetic diversity. Exodus of human population to mining site will enhance conflict with wildlife so to their losses in long run. Bauxite mining in Niyamgiri plateau will destroy a specialized kind of wildlife habitat, dominated by grasslands and sparse tree communities. These kinds of sites are breeding habitat of many herbivores such as barking deer and four horned antelopes.

The manufactured euphoria over the richest proposed university in the world is as illusive as the concept itself. A business house employing power tactics, first tries to set up an ecologically disastrous mining project to exploit Orissa’s indigenous areas for private gains. Facing stiff opposition from people and environmentalists alike, it struggles to gain a foothold for almost three years. And finally, wins the corridors of powers as predicted, with a side dish, a dream university: one that has allured the intelligentsia and educated section of the state, to create a normalization that can facilitate corporate hegemony over a land’s soul—its peoples.

Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) for SEZs

Dear friends

As we all know the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) for SEZs have in this month put a hold on SEZ approvals and are now considering reviewing/ammending the SEZ Act 2005. This is an opportunity for all people’s groups, NGOs, civil society members to come together and in one voice demand that this monsterous policy and law be scrapped immediately. Attached here is a Draft Memorandum to the Chairperson of the EGoM – SEZs demanding that

·        the SEZ Act 2005 be repealed to ensure industrial and economic development which is fair and democratic

·        the approved and notified SEZs be cancelled and land acquisitions already made be annulled

·        an immediate dialogue or consultation be initiated with people’s groups, communities and Panchayat representatives to seek opinion on strengthening the development of local economies

Annexed with the memorandum is a detailed critique of Special Economic Zones that we have prepared. We have tried to cover all the major issues in this but if any one wants to add or comment please go ahead and send us your suggestions so that the changes can be made.


In Solidarity

Manshi and Rifat

To 1st February 2007

Shri Pranab Mukherjee

The Chairperson

Empowered Group of Ministers –SEZs

Union of India

Dear Shri Mukherjee

We, the undersigned, would like to acknowledge that the Group of Ministers’ SEZs has taken a positive step by bringing to halt the approvals of Special Economic Zone projects and considering the need to review the Special Economic Zone Policy and Act 2005. This decision was the need of the hour in response to the wide scale opposition and rising discontentment among communities across India for forced acquisition of their resources and also among the civil society and people’s groups in general for not opening the issue of SEZs for dialogue or discussion.

We, as members of the civil society, have consistently been raising several concerns in the matter of establishment of SEZs. The key issues that have been raised by us include

1. Large scale forced acquisition of land and promotion of real estate businesses

2. Loss of local agriculture, fisheries based and other traditional livelihoods

3. Lack of equal and non-exploitative employment opportunities for local communities in SEZs

4. Increasing burden on natural resources like land, water, forests and environmental destruction

5. Revenue losses and lack of real economic development of the country and people

6. Breakdown of governance systems especially of the local self governments with the creation of foreign enclaves

7. No effort by the government to initiate or open public consultation on the matter

The detailed presentation on some of these issues is enclosed in the annexure. The above mentioned issues were raised at meetings with the Union Minister of Commerce, the Special Secretary MoC, Minister of State (MoC) in September 2006 by a delegation of civil society members. The following demands were put forth by the delegation

· Immediate stopping of land acquisition for SEZ projects

· Halting of approvals for SEZs by the BOA

· Immediate dialogue with people’s groups and panchayat representatives on the matter

· Repealment of the SEZ Act 2005

The Special Secretary, Mr. G.K.Pillai and Minister of State (MoC), Mr. Jairam Ramesh had acknowledged the concerns raised and had made the following prosmises

· That consultations with NGOs and people’s groups would be organized by the government to understand the concerns of the people’s

· That a separate meeting of Chief Secretaries of States’ with Peoples’ groups would be organised

However, both these promises have been unfulfilled and the demands put forth have been completely overlooked by the Ministry of Commerce. Moreover, the BoA of the MoC went ahead with clearing more than 100 odd SEZ proposals in the months that followed.

We once again reiterate that the SEZ Act 2005 is anti democratic and unconstitutional as it completely violates the right to life and livelihood of people, who are being forcefully displaced for the implementation of these projects. The Act promotes large scale privatization and monopolization of resources into the hands of a few private developers at huge costs to the state exchequer as well as the economy and environment of this country.

We once again firmly demand that

· the SEZ Act 2005 be repealed to ensure industrial and economic development which is fair and democratic

· the approved and notified SEZs be cancelled and land acquisitions already made be annulled

· an immediate dialogue or consultation be initiated with people’s groups, communities and Panchayat representatives to seek opinion on strengthening the development of local economies

We hope that being representatives of the people, you stand united with us for a just and democratic society that ensures equitable development for all.

Thank you,


1. Shri Murli Manohar Joshi, Chairperson, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce

2. Shri GK Pillai, Special Secretary, Ministry of Commerce

3. Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State, Ministry of Commerce

4. Sonia Gandhi, All India Congress Party President

ANNEXURE – Key Issues raised in arguments against Special Economic Zones

Issue of Land and Displacement of livelihoods

In countries like India the issue of large scale acquisition of farm land leading to dispossessed farmers and loss of farm based livelihoods across the country side has been dominant in creation of SEZs. In India, as of now the total amount of land for the 400 projects (both formally and in-principle approved) comes up to 1,25,000 hectares according to a news report The government however, claims that most of this land is available with the State Industrial Development Corporations which is indeed untrue. Farmer’s protests against acquisition of their lands in Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu. Orissa and Gujurat are evidence enough to prove that.

The fact is that before the opposition started the government was completely unprepared to deal with the issue of land acquisition and the subsequent fallouts on farmers.

  • The Central SEZ Act 2005, for instance, is silent on land acquisition for SEZs. Further, land is a state subject and State governments are being expected to take the lead in establishing SEZs and, in characteristic fashion, the policy on land acquisition and potential displacement has been left unattended.
  • The SEZ rules do mention that the land can be acquired by the developer only after BoA approval. However, in Haryana and Maharshtra we have seen that the state government and developers have started acquisition before receiving a nod from the MoC.
  • Further , while there is a lower limit to the amount of land that can be acquired for an SEZ, there is no upper limit. Chapt2 Sec4 of the central act infact says that the central government after notifying the SEZ, if it considers appropriate, can subsequently notify, any additional area under the SEZ.
  • What is also ironic is the government’s position that state should stay out of the land acquisition process and that it should be between the two parties (Private party and the land owner) in case of private land. This is rather unfortunate considering that the state is supposed to protect interests of the marginalsied sections of the society rather than let the big sharks free to eat the small fish. Unless we move with the assumptio
    ns that farmers and rural communities in India are no longer marginalized this is a bit hard to understand

  • Another statement that “wastelands and single crop lands” can be acquired for SEZs is also adhoc and irrelevant. Any one who has an understanding of the rural areas would know that land use in India is not confined to cultivation but also extends to collective use for day-to-day survival. Fuel, fodder, other non-timber forest produce requirements are met from land, which could be categorised as ‘common property resource’ or charagah, gaucher, padit bhoomi in local languages but is referred to as “wasteland” by the government. Another critical issue is that in many states these “waste” lands are also either already under cultivation where the farmers are yet to get legal titles. In Raigarh district, where Reliance is planning to build a massive SEZ, almost 12,000 hectares of what are known as Dali Lands have been under cultivation by the tribals for decades now. Most families though are still awaiting regularization of these lands since they fall under the category of Forest land. Similar is the case for Orissa. For example, in Jagatsinghpur district the area where the Multinational Pohang Steel Company is planning its Special Economic Zone, almost 300 families are yet to be allotted legal titles. In the absence of pattas or titles, the villagers have virtually no bargaining power and get displaced without adequate or any compensation. Rehabilitation in such cases is not even considered by the government.

Also, considering the size of many of the special economic zones – they would be spread over an area of hundreds of hectares. It would be rather difficult to find contiguous “wastelands” spread over large areas, especially in many of the states like Tamil Nadu, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra, where these zones are coming up. So it would be virtually impossible to locate them “only on wastelands”. In its myopic view of the problem of “Land” in SEZ projects the Ministry has failed completely in considering these complexities and dynamics which will have serious consequences for rural communities and the last of the common property resources in our country.

  • The principle of “eminent domain” which is the basis of our colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894) is being clearly misused and even given priority over the principles in the 73 rd and 74th amendment of the constitution , which give primacy to gramsabhas as autonomous decision making entities.
  • Now, in a rush to facilitate the setting up of these zones the Government is also pushing a National Rehabilitation Policy based on a 2006 draft circulated by the Ministry of Rural Development. This draft has been extensively critised by people’s groups for being sketchy and inadequate. Further, this draft completely overlooks the earlier draft prepared in 2005 by the National Advisory Council (NAC) of the UPA in extensive consultation with people’s groups. The 2006 draft does not draw from the principles of the 2005 draft version but infact ignores them. Inspite of detailed people’s opposition to the new draft the government is pushing for its passage.
    In a scenario where new mega-projects like Special Economic Zones are coming up at a fast pace within the legislative framework of the SEZ Act 2005, such a Rehabilitation policy in combination with the colonial Land acquisition act would do little to address the issues that arise out of development induced displacement.
Labour Exploitation Issues

It is a well known fact that all over the world trade and export zones have reported instances of labour exploitation as a characteristic feature. India is not very different.

  • Prior to the SEZ Act 2005, and the introduction of the SEZ policy, theoretically, all labour and factory legislation were fully applicable in the EPZs. However, even in the EPZs, trade unions were practically absent and rare despite attempts of trade unions to organise. The key reason being the restriction to entry into the EPZs, which is limited to the employees who are transported directly to and from the factory door. Workers have also reported fear of victimisation by management if they become part of union activities. In the Noida EPZ, workers have been sacked for demanding that labour laws should be implemented.
  • The government had restricted the right to strike in two of India’s export processing zones (EPZs) – the Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) near Bombay and the Kandla Free Trade Zone – by giving them “Public Utility” status under the Industrial Disputes Act. This makes strikes illegal unless they are preceded by specified reconciliation procedures involving the Labour Commissioners’ Office
  • In the current SEZ regime, the labour laws have been significantly watered down. Chapter 2 Clause 5(g) of the SEZ rules hands over the power to the Development Commissioner to declare the SEZ as a “Public Utility Service”. Clause 5(f) delaegates powers to the Development Commissioner to handle workmen-employer relations. Functions of the labour commissioner are also handed over to the Development Commissioner.
  • As in other parts of the world in Indian EPZs it is the women who constitute the bulk of the work force in the EPZs, employed in establishments such as ready-made garments and electronics-based and software industries In an All India Convention of EPZ/ SEZ workers organized by CITU in 2002 it was discussed that women workers are exploited in these zones, Women are made to work in night shifts without providing proper conveyance to their residences. They are not given maternity leave. On the other hand, women found to be pregnant are removed from service. Crèches are not provided. Young and unmarried women are only preferred. The use of toilets is controlled by issuing tokens. Sexual harassment is very common.
  • In the Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) near Bombay, ninety per cent of the workers are women who are generally young and too frightened to form unions. Working conditions are bad and overtime is compulsory. The same is the case in the Cochin SEZ. The Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970 specifically prohibits employing contract workers in activities which are “permanent and perpetual” in nature. We have example of many SEZ/EPZs where almost all the activities conducted by the units in are permanent and perpetual in nature and yet the practice of employing contract workers goes unabated

In the time to come the issue of labour is going to emerge as a major concern in these zones.

Environmental Issues in SEZs

While it would be very premature to talk about the environmental impacts of the large number of SEZ projects that are coming up, we have the Chinese example to imagine the extent of the environmental losses involved. India is already going through a crisis in terms of water scarcity as well as loss of forests and biodiversity. The point is that in the current framework for economic development costs of loss of forest and other common lands; large scale exploitation of water resources; coastal lands and lines; pollution – air and water; generation of e-waste etc; are not even being computed.

The environmental governance mechanisms have only seen weakening since the past five years. We have the following points to consider

  • It was way back in 2001 that the 1994 Environment Impact Assessment notification an amendment was made in 2001 that exempted SEZs from Public hearings, which was a critical part of the Environment Clearance procedure
  • The EIA notification 1994 was amended in a major way and a new notification was introduced in 2006 in order to issue fast track clearances for all projects
  • Schedule 1of the EIA notification, 2006 issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, under item 7c covers industrial estates/parks/c
    omplexes/areas, export processing zones (EPZs), Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Biotech Parks, Leather Complexes. The above categories continue to be exempted from the requirement of a public consultation even in the new notification

  • The EIA Notification, 2006 divides industries, projects and activities into Category A and Category B where projects under Category A have to be cleared by the Central Government, and Projects under Category B are to be cleared by the State Government.
  • Under Category A slated for Central Clearance ” if at least one industry in the proposed industrial estate (SEZ) falls under Category A, the entire industrial area shall be treated as Category A irrespective of area”, and “industrial estates with area greater than 500 ha. and housing at least one Category B industry” will be considered Category A and will require Central clearance. 
  • Under Category B, with “industrial estates housing at least one Category B industry and area < 500 ha” ; and “industrial estates of area > 500 ha and not housing any industry belonging to Category A or B”, require an EIA report to be cleared at the State Level. 
  • An industrial estate that is less than 500 ha and does not house an industry of either Category A or B is exempt from Environmental Clearance. 
  • While it seems fairly clear that units operating within SEZs largely require an Environmental Clearance at either the Central or State Level, on the basis of an E.I.A, but without a public consultation, a broad-based, sweeping “Special Condition” undermines even this basic requirement.  The condition states-

If any zone with homogeneous type of industries (under sections of chemical and petrochemical/bulk drug industries), or those Industrial estates with pre –defined set of activities (not necessarily homogeneous), obtains prior environmental clearance, individual industries including proposed industrial housing within such estates /complexes will not be required to take prior environmental clearance , so long as the Terms and Conditions for the industrial estate/complex are complied with

  • Construction projects are out of the purview of the EIA notification 2006

The SEZ Act and rules also leave the following ambiguities

  • No mention is made of regulatory mechanisms for Multi-product, single product zones, tourism zones as well as clearance for entire SEZ clearance vs. clearance for units
  • Guidelines for notification of SEZs are silent on environmental and ecological concerns
  • Single window clearances and roles of the approval committee are over arching. It is the development commissioner and later the SEZ Authority that would
  • The single window clearance feature makes the Approval committee at the state level under the DC responsible for approval of all SEZ units and even compliance to conditions of approval if any are to be monitored by the AC
  • There is no mention of the role of the Pollution Control Board
  • There is mention of Coastal Regulation related provisions in the sez rules and act. CRZ Notifications make space for SEZ’s with almost no conditions and regulation

These issues become even graver with provisions like the one restricting entry into the SEZs , which will be open to authorised persons only. This would obviously make it difficult for independent researchers to enter the area to carry out any environmental impact assessments or studies.

Issues of Governance and sovereignty of self governments

The most antidemocratic aspects of the SEZ Act which hit out at the sovereignty of governance systems

· Special Economic Zones have been given the status of industrial townships as per provisions of clause (1) of Article 243Q of the Indian Constitution and defined in Section 3.2 of SEZ Act, 2005. The State Government will declare the SEZs as Industrial Township Areas to function as self-governing, autonomous municipal bodies. Once an SEZ is declared as an Industrial Township Area, it will cease to be under the jurisdiction of any other local body like- Municipal Corporation and gram panchayat. Moreover, the SEZ Developer and Units would also be exempted from taxes levied by the local bodies because of its self-contained local body.

This clearly undermines the constitutional status given to Urban local Governance and Panchayats under 74 th and 73rd amendment. The present need is to improve financial powers given to the Panchayats to enable them to invest in physical and social infrastructure as a means of promoting growth and equity. And unregulated excessive industrial exploitation of land, water and other natural resources would only worsen the life of rural poor when Panchayats do not have any control of decision and taxing SEZs.

  • The status of “deemed foreign territory” to SEZs will snatch the sovereignty of locals from their lands, and natural resources which is the backbone of local economy and sustenance and also their fundamental right to movement as Indian citizens will be violated.
  • What is really going to challenge the governance system is the creation and concentration of power in the hands of the Development Commissioner at the state level and the Board of approvals in the Centre.
  • Further, the SEZ Act provides that grievances related to the SEZ can only be filed with courts designated by the state governments which will only be for trials related to civil and other matters of Special Economic Zones. No other courts can try a case unless it goes through the designated court first.
  • Building of a physical boundary around the SEZ and restricting entry to authorsied persons’ only means that it would be difficult for any individual or civil society groups and independent agencies to enter the area without prior approval of the Development Commissioner.
  • Creating foreign territories as SEZs within the national boundary will challenge the sovereignty of the country and undermine the constitutional right to freedom and liberty. This will enhance the internal conflicts led by economic and infrastructural disparity.

The act is completely silent as to the mechanisms for accountability of these (SEZ authority/ Approvals’ Authority) bodies to the people of the country.

Countering the Economic Logic

There are several questions that have been raised by economists and intellectuals challenging the arguments being offered in favour of SEZs as “engines of economic growth”. Some of these are

  1. Revenue losses from tax exemptions

According to an internal assessment of the Union Finance Ministry in 2005, the government had to forgo about Rs. 90,000 crore in direct and indirect taxes over a period of four years on account of the SEZs.

The 1998 Comptroller and Auditor-General Report on EPZs, stated that “customs duty amounting to Rs.7, 500 crore was forgone for achieving net foreign exchange earnings of Rs. 4,700 crore and the government does not seem to have made any cost benefit analysis.”.

The RBI has estimated that till 2010 the country exchequer would lose 1,60,000 on account of the tax subsidies to SEZ projects. The other concern is of SEZs turning into real estate businesses considering that 65% of the area within a zone can be a non industrial set-up.

  1. Domination of IT and Software projects

In the developing countries, the optimism generated by the boom in IT services allows the government to ignore the fact that growth of employment in the commodity producing sectors has not merely decelerated sharply but is increasingly less responsive to increases in output – the jobless growth syndrome. The optimism that IT services generate is only because this is the only segment where employment is increasing significantly. But that growth may be inadequate for most of the population except the middle class minority.

In Bangalore and Pune, both cities that have witnessed IT driven growth in the
past five years, issues of widening class disparities within the city leading to several social problems have emerged. Between July 2005 and 06, the Consumer Price Index escalated by about 8% in Pune, and 7% in Bangalore. This is further driving the real estate market – and cities like Pune have seen a whopping ascent in property prices as well as new construction. The ultimate load is on the city infrastructure – problems that both these aspiring to be metro-cities are facing. The states where these cities are located also are the toppers in the list of approved SEZ projects.

  1. Poor export performance of EPZs

There has been a comparison between SEZs and EPZs and the prediction of performance of SEZs in export production based on the EPZ experience in India

Lets take a look at some figures that will throw a light on the performance of EPZs

  • EPZs contributed to 4% of the exports in the country (2002)
  • As per an MoC report the exports from the Special Economic Zones during 2004-05 were of the order of US$ 4 billion, representing an annual growth of over 36%. During April-December, 2005, the exports from the SEZs stood at about US$ 3.5 billion.
  • During the five year period ending 1996-97 the foreign exchange outgo on imports made by the units and the customs duty forgone amounted to Rs.16461.58 crore against which exports of only Rs.13563.87 crore were reported.
  • An appraisal of the seven EPZs was undertaken during August 1996 to July 1997. Out of 2333 units granted letters of Approval, 513 units were functional as on 31 March 1997.
  • The Ministry of Commerce stated that 1351 projects/LOAs had been cancelled or lapsed on account of non-implementation indicating 58 per cent mortality in the units approved.

While the zoning concept remains the same as far as EPzs and SEZs are concerned, there are certain differences here –

  • 100% Export oriented units were essential in the EPZ policy and the conditions to get concessions and taxes were more difficult
  • The SEZ policy relaxes the conditions by allowing sale of products to domestic market by the Units in SEZ

The doubt that is being raised is that if SEZs are not able to attract EoUs then would they become hubs for domestic market production, which inturn would affect domestic producers in non SEZ areas (or domestic tariff areas)

Under all circumstances, in SEZ, the main beneficiaries would not be the units but the developers who would be getting land at cheap rates from the state along with huge concessions on infrastructure, maintenance and tax breaks. Even if they fail in attracting EOUs, their success will depend upon the set of activities (entertainment and township) that they can carry out for generating profits in the non industrial area of the SEZ.

  1. Regional Imbalances

The state wise break up of the number of projects below shows the dominance of SEZ projects in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. As in the case of China many of these zones are to be located in coastal areas. They also seem to be clustering around urban and already developed areas due to easy access to infrastructural facilities for transport and communication. The question that is being raised is of creation and further accentuation of already existing regional imbalances. Further, there is a concern about concentration of these zones in areas that are already over burdened and running short as far as supply of water and power are concerned.

The question that is being repeatedly raised is that are these zones relevant in the current economic context of India?


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Missing the wood for the trees

By K P Prabhakaran Nair

All of a sudden, there is a great debate and agitation going on in the country on the question of setting up industry by private enterprise acquiring land, sometimes fertile and from farmers, who have been tilling it for generations, under the overall umbrella of Special Economic Zones (SEZ). Nowhere else has the agitation gripped the attention of the entire nation as pointedly as it did in Singur, in West Bengal, on the acquisition of about 1,000 acres to set up the “small car” project of the Tatas.

Undoubtedly, India has been an agrarian country for millennia: 65 per cent of the population is involved in agriculture, and feeds the rest of the 35 per cent, which has a per capita domestic product that is more than 600 per cent of the former. India, indeed, is two countries — the “galloping India”, the nine per cent plus GDP India that boasts of a per capita purchasing power parity gross domestic product above that of Philippines, whose economy is modelled along that of the USA, and the other poor cousin — “Bharat”, which is mired in poverty and misery.

Inclusive policy

It is then logical to think that unless this 65 per cent is salvaged out of its abject misery, India has no economic future to be clubbed along with the comity of prosperous nations. Ever since Nehru dreamt of factories and dams, India has been on a trajectory of economic development based on big industries and almost all our five year plans have followed the pattern based on a western model that says “export and expand”. But, the bedrock of our development has been pegged on the agrarian sector, which of late has become the real laggard.

The annual rate of increase in food production has fallen below the annual increase in population, setting in motion the Malthusian theory of population explosion outstripping food production. With India’s global trade in agriculture less than one per cent, a double digit growth in industry — the latest November 2006 Index of Industrial Production (IIP) which had zoomed to 14 per cent — must persuade the country to take the 65 per cent out of its quagmire. The question is how?

This is a gargantuan task. An example: Transferring about five million workers from the agricultural sector (about two per cent of that workforce) to the non-agricultural sector annually will require upwards of Rs 2,50,000 crore or about 30 per cent of India’s total capital formation. It would be totally impossible to generate this colossal sum of money on our own. But, we must make a beginning. Redirecting through incentives, current non-agricultural investment to rural districts, along the borders of taluk and district headquarters, which skirt the highways, might provide a substantial sum of money. This is where the mandarins in New Delhi and state capitals need to be very vigilant — zero in on the authentic industrial enterprise with integrity from the land grabber. Nowhere else has this been so glaringly show-cased as in Singur.

A myth

Importantly, the country’s leadership must tell the agricultural fraternity in no uncertain manner that if they have nothing spectacular to show on the farmers’ fields, it might be better to fold up or trim substantially the burgeoning “research” monoliths. India can no more afford to keep singing the paens ad nauseam of a so-called “green revolution” that has outlived its utility more than two decades ago, and created in its wake, unmanageable environmental hazards. And the word play of an “ever green revolution”, to bring in through the back door genetically modified crops, is no answer either.

Look at the state of the agricultural extension network. Only 0.9 per cent of India’s huge farming community make practical use of the huge monolith — the Krishi Vigyan Kendras under the ICAR being run since decades on a very huge budget! The 1.5 million Agro Technology Agents in China do a far better job, working shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers in the field, constantly innovating!

Probably this is where pro-active, forward looking statesmanship, has to come to the fore, as opposed to the conniving gimmickry of “vote-bank politics”.