Heaping misery in the name of SEZs

Heaping misery in the name of SEZs

Sixty-two years seem to have dulled the country’s desire for Independence: The government appears to be having a bout of nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ and has decided to bring back ‘foreign territories’ a la East India Company in the form of Special Economic Zones.

A coastal corridor of ‘Special Exploitation Zones’ or REZs (Real Estate Zones) — as those concerned about this regressive development prefer to call them — are all set to affect 4.17 crore persons living in these sensitive areas. In a policy unveiled in 2007, these SEZs were demarcated for creating Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Regions (PCPIRs).

A contented people, who ask for nothing from the government, make their living in these areas, carrying on sustainable fishing practices or cultivating their little plots of land, nurturing and nourishing the earth that sustains them. Into this self-sustaining system, the government wants to plant these SEZs, which will be given huge subsidies, tax exemptions, incentives and freedom from several laws to maraud the land as they deem fit. In return, the SEZs will spew poisons into the land, water and air and ruin the land’s ability to sustain life. The government then calls this ‘public purpose’.

Generating wastelands
The SEZ will create a few thousand jobs for outsiders while displacing thousands more who are currently surviving on that land. The government locates the SEZ on fertile land and converts it into a wasteland and then gives wasteland to those displaced, on which they can grow nothing. The government calls all this ‘development’.
The government doesn’t seem to have learnt any lessons from the two-decade-long struggle against the Sardar Sarovar Project as it is continuing to repeat the same mistakes. Critics are not against value addition per se. While a food processing unit near agricultural land would be welcome, a petrochemical or IT company on well-irrigated land would be an anachronism, when the government has 69 per cent of land, which is arid in India, to choose from.
 What is being questioned is also the undemocratic process of land acquisition. A series of public hearings by civil society groups, led by the NAPM and the NCPRI, is in progress around the country to look into the pros and cons of these ‘foreign islands’ on Indian soil.

At the public audit of the Mangalore SEZ, for instance, farmer after farmer spoke of how the draconian KIADB Act and other coercive measures are being used to acquire their land. The Tamil Nadu audit revealed that revenue records are being fudged to show wet lands as dry.  A referendum at Raigad had 96 per cent farmers saying ‘no’ to the project, because of which the government kept the result of the referendum under wraps.

A government-funded study itself says that the quality of life index of the people will improve by 0.02 as a result of these projects. No one seems to have paused to think whether it is worth spreading such havoc in people’s lives for this alleged improvement of 0.02.

Destroying crops
What can one say about a state that violates its own laws and procedures with nonchalance; fudges its own revenue records and master plans to cheat its own people; colludes with the greedy rich to defraud the helpless poor of their meagre assets; levels with bulldozers — without so much as a by-your-leave —  the food crops the poor have grown through hard toil on their land?

What does one say when the state thinks nothing of de-housing its people without providing them alternative shelter; goes back on its own promises to them to provide jobs and compensation; threatens them with dire consequences when they complain against its misdoings; beats them up and imprisons them when they protest against the injustice meted out to them?  All these were realities revealed by the sufferers during the public audits.
If an ordinary citizen had committed all the above offences, he would have been jailed immediately with a dozen cases under various sections of the IPC filed against him. But there are no jails to which one can send an errant state. The insolence, arrogance, contempt and violence with which the state treats its own poor people are incomprehensible.