The continued protest against the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) by the peasants and political parties in various parts in India shows that there is something fishy about it. The unnatural hurry with which the Bill was tabled in Parliament and passed by both the Houses within two days only without any meaningful deliberation speaks volumes.
The peasants all over India are shocked and dismayed and almost every day since March 14, 2005 when the macabre massacre at Nandigram took place followed by rape on women, there is an upsurge of political violence in the country in some form or other. Neither the United Front Government led by the self-styled ?Marxist? Communist Party in West Bengal, nor the UPA Government at the Centre run by Dr Manmohan?Sonia clique shows least concern to wind up this nefarious deal before it is too late.
In a country where, according to Government extimate itself, 1.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide within a span of a few years, grabbing the double and triple cropped land of peasants which is the only means of their livelihood is certainly a ghastly crime.
If SEZs were to be set up at all they could have been set up on barren and uncultivated tracks of land. There was absolutely no justification in acquiring fertile agricultural land of poor farmers for carrying on industrial operations. Take, for example, the case of Nandigram, which has been rated as the best in agricultural production in the whole of India. According to reliable sources its total domestic production which obviously included agricultural yields was worth Rs. 7156 crore during 2005-06. This is one of the reasons why farmers of Nandigram do not want to part with their precious land.
The West Bengal CM had hatched up a pernicious plan to acquire and give 10000 acres of land in Nandigram to the notorious Salim Group of Indonesia for a chemical hub. Salim is the son of General Suharto who installed himself on the seat of power in 1965 by reportedly massacring more than a million communists in the cruelest carnage that was ever witnessed in that country. The West Bengal CM Buddhadev Bhattacharya who is never tired of calling himself a ?Communist? is still insistent on allotting large tract of land to the said group in his State though he has temporarily withdrawn from Nandigram after facing stiff opposition from the people.
Though the concept of SEZ is based on the idea of Export Processing Zone (EPZ) which had taken shape in 1930, the existing SEZ scheme in our country is a blind imitation of the Chinese SEZ, which was established in Red China in 1980 after the death of Chairman Mao Tse Tung.
The UPA Government which is pursuing the SEZ Plan with a procrustean zeal is full of praise for Chinese SEZ but it has closed its eyes to the fact that in China all SEZs are in the public sector and investors from foreign countries get only part profits. Most importantly unlike India, the number of SEZs in that country is very few and all of them are under the control of the Government. The famous Chinese SEZs are only six in number set up in Shenzhen, Shantao, Xiamen, Zhuhai, Hainan and Pudong.
About two years back, there were only 400 SEZs in the world and most of them being in public sector were fully controlled by their respective governments. In India, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industries reportedly fixed the target of establishing 1000 SEZs within a few years.
The State of West Bengal had originally drawn up a scheme of acquiring approximately 1,04, 826 acres of land for the establishment of SEZs. Big capitalist firms like Telecom/Tata, Tata Metaliks, Reliance Industrial Retail Network, Tata Motors, Jindal Steel and the likes were listed as potential developers. In the said proposed scheme, an alien firm Salim (MNC) of Indonesia was allotted 59,250 acres of valuable land for its multi- purpose projects like chemical hub in Nandigram, Fish Farming Project at Amta etc. The total area of land for the establishment of 403 SEZs in 22 States of the country was estimated to be 1,74,898.02 hectares.
It is anybody'sguess as to what will happen to the peasantry if the large tracts of agricultural lands are grabbed by the multinationals and others in the wake of imperialist globalisation imposed on our country. The whole scheme has been launched for the benefit of the corporate houses without realising the danger of displacement of lakhs of poor and marginal farmers and farm labourers from their village homes.
If the nefarious offence of establishing 1000 SEZs, which is much more than twice the number of total SEZs in the world is allowed to be launched in India millions of toiling tillers will be forced to leave their hearth and home in search of livelihood.
The capitalist have tasted the blood of the poor! Now they are entering the villages to devour the double and triple cropped land of these people to satisfy their insatiable thirst for money.
The entire SEZ scheme in India is based on an erroneous notion that the prosperity of our country depends not on agriculture but on industry. It was due to this mistaken belief that when the Constitution was framed industry was honourably placed in the Union List but agriculture and water were relegated to the State List.
Since the SEZ Scheme has been devised to help the capitalist notwithstanding the retrogressive UPA Government'sfalse claim that it is for India'sall-round development various States have given free rein to SEZ units to amass as much wealth as possible by ruining the peasantry and others.
Taking advantage of the loopholes in the Constitution of India several States have evolved their own policies and set of rules. Some States have gone to the extent of amending important pieces of legislation like Contract Act, Industrial Disputes Act and other labour laws to favour developers in carrying on their business in Special Economic Zones.
As a result of these measures, there is every possibility of exploitation of labourers in these private establishments. Transgressing the work regime of eight hours developers may compel labourers to work for 10 to 12 hours a day as generally happens in business firms. Due to the conversion of industries into public utilities labourers may not be able to resort to strike.
One of the most objectionable parts of the SEZ scheme is the exemption of developers from the payment of taxes and other charges and unreasonable grant of subsidies to them. If the SEZ Act is not abrogated in time it may cause colossal loss to State Exchequer.
The Union Finance Minister has reportedly claimed that the SEZ proposed by the Union Minister of Commerce and Industries will cause revenue loss of Rs 1,75,000 crore by 2010. It has been reported that during 2005-06 the Government paid Rs. 34,430 crore as subsidies to private parties for promoting exports!
Had this money been spent in generation and distribution of electricity and supply of water in villages hit hard by debt and draught, suicides by farmers could have been averted. Instead of giving monetary and other incentives to farmers who feed us by growing crops, the Government is giving fabulous tax break and huge subsidies to the millionaires, many of whom are foreigners.
One of the greatest flaws in the SEZ Act is that the option of selecting the area for the establishment of a Special Economic Zone rests not with the Government but with the developer who wants to set it up. Section 3(2) of the SEZ Act 2005 lays down??Any person, who intends to set up a Special Economic Zone, may after identifying the area make a proposal to the State Government concerned for the purpose of setting up the Special Economic Zone.?
It is only due to such flawed provisions in the Act that large areas of double and triple cropped lands have been forcibly acquired and put to non-agricultural operations causing colossal loss in food production.
It should not be forgotten that since 1990 till date more than 768 million hectares of useful agricultural land have been taken over for non-agricultural pursuits.
What was the rationale in issuing notices to farmers for acquisition of 1,37,000 acres of their fertile land for the benefits of a handful of business corporates connected with 67 multi product SEZs?
Such anti-farmer activities of State Governments and the Centre account for the growing despondency among the villagefolk which is making our nation weak.
In several cases it happens that State Governments acquire land from marginal farmers at a low price and after keeping them unused for many years sell them to big companies at much higher prices. The companies too subsell them to others at enhanced rate. According to one report a few years back, the Maharashtra Government purchased land from poor farmers at the rate of Rs. 50,000 per hectare and after keeping the same unused for a long time sold the same to a company at the rate of Rs. 62 lakh per hectare. About two years back the buyer company fixed the price of this land at Rs. 10 crore per hectare.
The worst and most annoying thing about the SEZs is that they are not only tax-free enclaves under the absolute control of corporate houses but they have also become ?deemed foreign territories? within the territory of India.
According to Section 2(m) of the SEZ Act, supplying goods from one unit of SEZ to another unit is Export and receiving goods by one unit from another unit is Import!
Moreover every person who wants to reside in a Special Economic Zone or whose presence is required there has to obtain an Identity Card from the concerned Development Commissioner. According to Article 19 of the Constitution all citizens have the right not only to move freely throughout the territory of India, but also to reside and settle in any part thereof, but Section 46 of the SEZ Act, 2005 puts restriction on that right by mandating the issuance of Identity Card.
Section 53 of the Act, inter-alia, clearly says that ?a SEZ, shall on and from the appointed day, be deemed to be a territory outside the customs territory of India?. In other words SEZs have become ?Deemed Foreign Territories? within India.
Manmohan-Sonia combine has already done enough harm to the great Motherland. It ought not to be allowed to commit more mischiefs in the name of globalisation. The SEZ scheme must go for good.
(The writer is advocate of Supreme Court and can be contacted at 207A, Kalyani Apartments, Sector-6, Vasundhara (Ghaziabad)).