The most visible resistance to the often indiscriminate acquisition of land has come, naturally, from farmers. A roundup of the state of play in different parts of the country.Gearing up for battle Dionne Bunsha in Mumbai
IT seems the will of Mukesh Ambani prevails over the words of Sonia Gandhi. The Congress president recently declared, as did Industries Minister Kamal Nath and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, that farmland should not be acquired for special economic zones (SEZs). But this directive has not had any effect on the State government - it continues to acquire land for the Mumbai SEZ being developed by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).
Just outside Mumbai, farmers have been served acquisition notices for the 35,000-acre (14,000-hectare) SEZ, one of the largest in the country and one-third the size of the metropolis. The company and local officials claim it is all "unproductive" land. Yet, a drive through the villages will tell you exactly how "unproductive" this green coastal area is. "We are twice blessed - with very rich soil for rice and we also have the sea for fishing," said Sadashiv Patil, the police `patil' of Shirki village in Raigad district. He has been served a land acquisition notice. "By next year, we will get irrigation from the Hetawane dam, so then we can grow a second crop. How dare the government say this is barren land? We won't leave our land for any amount of money," he declared.
Farmers in these villages earn around Rs.55,000 a year from fishing. Many have small ponds in their paddy fields for fish. "We don't want jobs in any factory. We have our land, our trees and the sea to keep our stomachs full," said Patil.
According to informed sources, Reliance plans to convert these fields into expensive real estate, and the government seems to be acting as its broker, forcibly acquiring land at a pittance and handing it over to RIL to sell to businesses in the SEZ. It will be a satellite city in prime location - close to the major highways, ports and the site for the new international airport. Besides the 45 villages that are to be acquired, Reliance has been buying up agricultural land at cheap rates anticipating an increase in land value in the area once the SEZ comes through.
Government records estimate the land value at around Rs.1.7 lakhs to Rs.2.5 lakhs an acre. Reliance has been trying to buy up land at Rs.3 to 4 lakh an acre. The market rate, depending on location and quality, is between Rs.20 lakhs and Rs.40 lakhs an acre now. Once the airport and the bridge connecting Navi Mumbai to Sewri in central Mumbai are built, it is expected to shoot up. Reliance is one of the bidders to build the bridge.
Will the Central government's directive about farmlands wreck RIL's dreams? "Let the government decide. They have made public announcements but the State is going ahead with land acquisition," said Dilip Chaware, spokesperson for RIL's SEZ project. The company plans to invest a total of Rs.25,000 crores in the project. "We estimate that the SEZ will attract Rs.300,000 crores of investments. We already have more than 200 international investors," said Chaware.
Across Maharashtra, farmers have organised huge protests against the forcible acquisitions. Around 30,000 farmers protested against the RIL SEZ outside the Commissioner's office in Navi Mumbai in late September. A few weeks later, people of the villages organised a chain of hunger strikes. In Pune, cultivators who are going to be displaced by three SEZs organised a rally on October 6. Farmers who protested against the seizure of their land in Mann had to face police bullets on March 9. In nearby Karla (Pune district), farmers are angry. "We don't need work. We have our land. We can't live in a jhopadpatti [slum]. The government will throw us out from there too," said Vikram Bagwe of the Ekvira Jameen Bachao Andolan. "Already we have sacrificed our land for so many projects - 13 dams, the Pune expressway, a petrol pipeline. Now they want to take everything. We don't want money. In the long run, only our farms will last, not money," he said.
Faced with the surge of people's protests and a barrage of questions from the media, Maharashtra's government officials have become cagey. They avoid answering questions and refer you to another department. Asked why farmland was being acquired, Industries Secretary Vinesh K. Jairath said, "The policy clearly states that only irrigated land where there is double cropping will not be acquired. Since 68 per cent of Maharashtra has rain-fed farming, this is not a problem." Asked why irrigated land was being acquired for the Mumbai and Pune SEZs, he said, "We have not yet surveyed the land. We will deal with all objections as part of the legal process of acquisition. If any of these objections are valid, we will accept them."
Socio-economic and environmental assessments of the SEZ projects were not done before the proposals were sanctioned. "It is being done now. That is the procedure," he said. The government is apparently clearing projects without understanding their full impact. Moreover, there is no cost-benefit analysis for any project. How much of our natural resources are we losing? Is it worth the price when weighed against the supposed economic benefits?
Being so close to Mumbai, Raigad has had its share of industrialisation. People know what land acquisition can do to them. "Those who got Rs.10 lakhs for their land to make way for the Ispat Denro plant are now selling cucumbers. No rice or vegetables grow in the fields near the IPCL plant at Nagothane. They didn't give all the jobs they promised. In Panvel, the creek is so polluted, no one can fish. In the SEZ, pollution will be worse because they have said that no environmental laws apply," said Anant Kashyap Mhatre of Bhal Vithalwadi village. "This is development not for the people but Ministers and industrialists."
All over the State, farmers are getting ready for combat. "We are not going to commit suicide like the farmers in Vidarbha. We are Agris. We will fight. This is the land of freedom fighters, martyrs who were killed by the British in our Chirner Jungle Satyagraha, Vinobha Bhave, Lokmanya Tilak and also Shivaji," said Ganesh Thakur from Wadav village in Raigad. "The Maharashtra government is deaf. Though Sonia Gandhi has announced that SEZs should not be built on farms, they are going ahead. They may be slaves to big companies but we will not let them make us slaves."Tribal ire Prafulla Das in Bhubaneswar
OPPOSITION is growing in Orissa to the Union Commerce Ministry's granting of special economic zone (SEZ) status to several upcoming mineral-based industries and information technology parks in the State. It is not just those in the affected zones but also political parties, people's organisations and social activists who argue that the exercise is aimed at benefiting Indian and foreign corporate houses at the cost of thousands of hectares of cultivable land and huge losses of tax revenue to the State.
The Commerce Ministry's Board of Approvals (BoA) has so far given formal approval for four SEZs in the State and "in principle" approval for another eight, including the one in favour of Posco-India, the Indian subsidiary of Posco, the world's third largest steel company. Of the 12, two are to be located at Kalinganagar in Jajpur district - one by Jindal Stainless and another, which has got formal approval, by the Infrastructure Development Corporation of Orissa (IDCO) for metallurgical-based engineering and downstream industries. The three other projects that have got formal approval are for IT and ITES, to be developed by IDCO in and around Bhubaneswar in collaboration with various companies, including Genpact, a business process outsourcing (BPO) major.
Clearance for the Tata group's proposed SEZ was deferred in view of the Union Home Ministry's concerns that the complex was in the vicinity of a defence base. The State government was quick to respond to the September 28 BoA decision by writing to the Home Ministry to reconsider the case.
The Tatas had initially acquired the land near Gopalpur to set up a steel plant. But the project was shelved and the land continued to remain in their hands. As the local people started demanding their land back, the company recently came out with the idea of an SEZ on 2,500 acres (1,011.71 hectares) for an electro-metallurgical industrial complex.
Besides the Jindal Stainless project for a stainless and ancillary zone at Kalinganagar, the others that have received "in principle" approval are IDCO's multi-product SEZ at Paradip, Posco-India's in Jagatsinghpur, Wellspun's textile zone at Chowdwar near Cuttack, Vedanta Alumina's project for aluminium products including those involving downstream industries in Jharsuguda, Hindalco Industries' aluminium project in Sambalpur, Saraf Agencies' beach sand mineral processing zone in Chhatrapur in Ganjam district and DLF's IT/ITES zone in Bhubaneswar.
Why grant SEZ status to steel and alumina units that already get the required minerals at a low price? Few in the corridors of power have an answer to this question. Opponents of SEZs believe that it is only one more reason to take over prime cultivable land.
At Kalinganagar, tribal people facing eviction from their homes and land have been staging a roadblock agitation since January 2. On that day 13 tribal people and two policemen were killed in clashes over the construction of a boundary wall for Tata Steel's proposed six-million-tonne steel plant. The Visthapan Virodhi Janmanch is spearheading the agitation.
State government representatives who attended the BoA meeting in New Delhi on September 28 apparently informed the board that land involved in all these cases would be waste/barren land or single-crop land. This submission was far from the truth; a large patch of the land being acquired for Posco-India grows multiple crops.
Initially, Posco sought an area of 4,500 acres (1,800 ha). But as local opposition gained strength, the company modified its site plan as many as 60 times by excluding villages, to settle finally for 4,004 acres. This brought down the number of families that would be displaced to 450 from 2,000, but opposition to the project continues.
"Attracting investment in the name of SEZs is an eyewash. It is a novel way of handing over priceless agricultural land and valuable mineral resources to corporate houses and also losing revenue at the end of day," said Bijay Mohapatra, president of the Orissa Gana Parishad. "We will fight the SEZ move tooth and nail to expose the unholy nexus between those in power and the corporate houses," he added.
"No land should be given to any company for a price. The land should be given only on lease, the way the government has been granting mining lease.s By handing over valuable land to private companies at a throw away price we will actually end up creating a new generation of landlords," said Janardan Pati, secretary of the Orissa unit of the CPI(M).
"Agricultural land should not be handed over to corporate houses for industries or SEZ projects since this will jeopardise the food security system in the country," said Sudhir Patnaik, a Bhubaneswar-based social scientist.
Mohapatra suggested that the State government apply its mind while recommending concessions to private companies in the form of SEZ status. "It was contradicting its own stand of value-addition to the State's rich mineral resources, as SEZs will not give much revenue benefit to the State itself," he said.
The industrial policy resolution of the State government emphasises value-addition to its natural resources of iron ore, coal and bauxite. But economists fear that according SEZ status to companies will defeat this aim. The State will not get much except the meagre royalty on minerals.
Companies seeking to set up SEZs agree that they would now pay less tax to the government. "We are now in the process of finalising the fresh tax projections that the State and Centre would get from our project," said an official of a steel company.
The State has so far attracted Rs.2,00,000 crores in investment in the steel sector, for which companies have already put forward their claims on iron ore reserves. Similar is the situation in the power sector. The State is looking to increase its power generation to 30,000 megawatts with an estimated investment of over Rs.1,50,000 crores.
All these projects involve the acquisition of large patches of private land apart from coal blocks and water. Bauxite, another mineral, has attracted major players and an investment of over Rs.50,000 crores for the production of alumina and aluminium.
That the SEZs will create huge employment opportunities is also disputed. Said Rabi Behera, secretary of Jibika Bachao Andolan: "With technological advancement, employment generation will not be as much as is being projected. The hype of industrialisation will end in a mess if the government does not do some soul-searching at the earliest."
Builders in fray P. Manoj in Bangalore and M. Raghuram in Mangalore
KARNATAKA is expected to tread a cautious path while allotting land to special economic zone (SEZ) developers given the political overtones surrounding land acquisition for high-profile projects such as the Bangalore-Mysore infrastructure corridor and the Arkavathy Layout in the recent past.
The State has received approval for 34 SEZ projects, including 19 formal and 15 in-principle approvals, from the Union Commerce Ministry's Board of Approval (BoA). Developers are expected to pump in Rs.21,729.26 crores for the 34 projects on 4,496.16 hectares (11,110.25 acres) and the State government estimates that these projects will generate employment for 5.68 lakh people.
One SEZ is proposed to come up in Hassan and three in coastal Karnataka - in Tadri (Uttara Kannada district), Padubidri (Udupi ) and Baikampady in Mangalore (Dakshina Kannada). The investment at Baikampady is likely to exceed Rs.50,000 crores, according to Subir Raha, former Chairman of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), which is one of the promoters. Of the 34 projects, 22 are in the IT and ITES sectors, two in bio-technology, three in textiles and apparels, five in engineering products and one each in multi-products and advanced research and development. Some of the key players who have received formal/in-principle approvals are Wipro Limited (IT/ITES), Infosys Technologies Limited (IT/ITES), Hewlett-Packard (IT-ITES), Adarsh Prime Projects Private Limited (IT/ITES), Gokuldas Exports (apparel and textiles), Gandhi City Project (advanced research and development), Biocon Limited (biotechnology), Suzlon Infrastructure Ltd (hi-tech engineering products and related services), Tata Consultancy Services (IT/ITES), Hinduja Investment Private Limited (IT/ITES, textile and apparel park) and Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (IT/ITES, engineering and textiles).
Officials of the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB), the agency created to undertake this task, said that under the guidelines only 10 per cent of the land required for setting up an SEZ could be double-crop land. The rest must be barren land, wasteland or single-crop land. "Ideally, we should not locate/identify prime agriculture land for setting up an SEZ," said a KIADB official. At the same time, making an "exception" for prime farm land would be a problem given the contiguous nature of land requirement for setting up SEZs, he added.
The type of land required had to be looked at from the point of view of infrastructure facilities available in the area for investors to set up shop. If the government creates infrastructure, it would add to the cost of the land during allotment. "So, it's a mixed issue," he said.
On its part, the State government has been exhorting private investors, mainly IT companies, to look beyond Bangalore, at secondary cities such as Mysore, Mangalore, Hubli-Dharwad, Hassan, Udupi and Belgaum, for their operations. But IT companies prefer areas in a radius of about 50-60 km outside Bangalore, where land prices have shot up as a result. This has blocked the plans of some IT majors to expand operations in the city and they are left with no choice but to look elsewhere.
Another significant feature in Karnataka is the number of real estate developers who are venturing into SEZs in the IT and ITES sector. Apart from Adarsh Prime Projects, entities such as Bagamane Developers, Shapoorji Pallonji and Company, Parsvnath Developers and Ittina Properties are among those who have received approval to set up SEZs in IT-ITES area.
Fearing that the SEZ Act may give rise to a new form of "landlordism", Karnataka and some other States have urged the Central government to come up with a clear-cut policy to prevent "improper usage of land" by the developer. Some of the developers have offered farmers shares in the company setting up the SEZ to prevent potential controversies arising out of land acquisition and to make farmers also stakeholders in the venture, officials said.
The Baikampady SEZ turned controversial following the statement by Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath that only 10 per cent of the agricultural land sought can be under double crop. The SEZ had sought 1,800 acres (720 ha) for a petro-complex and another 2,000 acres (1,440 ha) for a general purpose SEZ. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), the `Hasiru Sene' (Green Brigade) and the Dakshina Kannada Raitha Sanghatanegala Okkoota (Federation of Dakshina Kannada Farmer Organisations) claim that all the land that has been identified is double-crop land and some even triple-crop. The SEZ Impact Assessment Committee, which is a part of the NGO Forum, also asserted that land coming under the Baikampady SEZ was prime agriculture land and should not be used for industrial purposes.
Sunny D'Souza, convener of the Okkoota, said Dakshina Kannada and particularly Mangalore taluk did not have any large-scale land-holding. N.S. Varma, district unit head of the KRRS, said all the issues would be discussed with farmers at a State-level meeting in Mangalore. He alleged that such large tracts of land being acquired for developing SEZs was nothing but succumbing to pressure from the land mafia. The novel SEZ concept, he added, was in danger of becoming a real estate business at the cost of poor farmers.
Selling to RIL T.K. Rajalakshmi in Jhajjar & Sonepat
IN one of the dusty lanes of Jhajjar town, outside a relatively nondescript office that is not known to many people, several farmers are seated on shiny plastic chairs, some inside the office too. They stare at men sitting in front of computer screens processing data that in many ways will decide their future. For they are selling their land for the upcoming 25,000-acre (10,117.14-hectare) multi-product SEZ, a joint-venture between a subsidiary of Reliance India Limited (RIL) and the Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC).
The men behind the computers are employees of RIL. The office began operations in September, says an employee. Even though the queues are not long, he claims the response has been encouraging. "You see the tea shop there. Before we arrived, the owner used to make Rs.35-40 a day. Now he earns up to Rs.150 a day," says a senior employee. He says similar offices have been opened in Bahadurgarh and Gurgaon. Tea-shop owners are doing good business there as well.
This is a direct transaction, at the rate of Rs.22 lakhs an acre, but there is some confusion over the rate. Farmers are relieved that they do not have to sell their land to the government; they do it directly to the company developing the SEZ. "Is it Rs.22 lakhs or Rs.23 lakhs an acre?" asks a farmer. There is uncertainty as the agreement papers or bayana contains the name not of RIL but a Nariman Point company whose authorised signatory is one Rajeev Aggarwal. "What if something goes wrong? Who do we sue, RIL, HSIIDC or this Aggarwal?" asks another farmer. One landowner says he is selling only a part of his land as he is unsure of how things will shape up.
Evidently, both the big landowners and the marginal farmers, who form the majority, face a crisis in terms of low returns and high input costs. Despite the declaration that fertile or cultivable land should not be allotted to SEZs, nothing seems to be restraining either buyers or sellers. "For the past 15 years, successive governments have allowed agriculture to get into a state of crisis," says Ram Kumar, an agricultural economist and farmer. According to him, no land in Haryana, barring that which was rocky, is uncultivable.
The farmers do not seem jubilant. Jai Bhagwan, a farmer, says that no one is happy selling his land: "If only the government had ensured a canal for this area, there would have been no problem. The land here is good but needs water. Even if they had given us one crore [rupees], we would not have sold it." Another farmer, Rohtas Singh, is hopeful of doing some business with the Rs.44 lakhs he will get, though much of the money will go towards repaying bank loans.
Around 52 per cent of the working population in the State is engaged in agriculture - 36.34 per cent as cultivators and 15.22 per cent as agricultural labourers. As per Census 2001, the number of women main workers (those who work for more than six months) more than doubled while the male work participation declined.
According to government figures on the occupational distribution of persons listed on employment exchanges in the State, people without professional or vocational training or previous work experience constitute the bulk of job seekers. On the other hand, the number of agricultural labourers has been going up steadily.
In Sonepat district, along the Grand Trunk Road, the story is mildly different but there is belligerence in the air. There are no SEZs being planned here, but it is here that fears of real estate business and elite interests taking over are most palpable. A faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) is spearheading protests in Badh Khalsa village against the government's plan to set up the Rajiv Gandhi Education City on prime agricultural land. There are around 12 villages involved in the agitation and their farmers have gone to court demanding a stay on land acquisition. The land here is much valued; it is not only fertile, but close to the national highway. More importantly, it is adjoining Delhi.
The Education City is spread on 2,000 acres (809.37 ha) that can grow four crops a year. The issue is about acquiring land, by both the government and private developers, to create facilities to absorb a demand that is emanating primarily from Delhi. "What stakes do we have in this education city? Our children and grandchildren will not get admission here," says Randhir Singh, an ageing farmer of Badh Khalsa.
S.N. Solanki, state vice-president of the All India Kisan Sabha, said that as the countryside itself had undergone several changes - a highly urbanised Delhi and "mall-oriented" lifestyles being one of the reasons - several farmers were keen on selling their land to private colonisers and builders rather than to the government. Private colonisers and builders are already at work on "ultramodern townships" in this area, having bought land at the rate of Rs.2 crores an acre. It is learnt that since 1985 almost 57 colonisers or builders have been granted colonisation licences by successive governments on land for which the government has initiated acquisition proceedings.
There are more voices of dissent, genuine ones, like those of the farmers of Gannaur, where the government is planning a Hi-Tech City on 8,200 acres spread across 37 villages. The Left parties, mainly the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, are supporting the agitation. "One thing is certain, those who are going to live in that city are not going to like the smell of our bodies," says Subhash Giri, one of the local organisers of the agitation. Giri and Solanki felt that the government should declare a special agricultural zone if it was at all keen on saving agricultural land from the depredations of the real estate business.
There are 60 SEZs being planned in the State and around 35 of them have got the `in principle' nod from the Centre. There are real estate developers in the fray, taking advantage of the stipulation that 65 per cent of the land can constitute the non-processing zone from which the government will earn next to nothing.
The government has separate policies for industry, SEZs, labour and land acquisition, but no policy for agriculture, on which more than 50 per cent of the population depends.
The difference Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay in Kolkata
WHEN Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat commented that the West Bengal model of special economic zones (SEZs) was worthy of emulation, he was not just scoring a political point. The modifications made by the CPI(M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal in the establishment of SEZs have a number of laudable features.
First, the composition of these SEZs is proposed to be different from the pattern laid down by the Central government. In the case of multi-product SEZs, 50 per cent of the land will be for industrial use, 25 per cent for related infrastructure and the rest for other purposes, as against the Centre's pattern of 25 per cent for industries. State Industries Minister Nirupam Sen, one of the architects of the West Bengal industrial drive, said the basic objective was to provide employment through industrial investments and not just to attract foreign capital through fiscal concessions.
The second important feature is that there is the least dislocation in agricultural activities and the least hardship to those who lose their land as a result of acquisition proceedings. The State government's policy is to avoid acquisition of multi-cropped land, but given the huge areas involved and the high population density of the State, it is not always possible to do so. But the main point, according to Sen, is whether the value-addition from industries will more than offset the loss due to cessation of agricultural operations.
Three big SEZs coming up in the State are in and around Haldia, mostly on saline, fallow and marshy land. They, along with the existing industries in Haldia, will form part of the 280-square-kilometre Petroleum Chemicals and Petrochemicals Industrial Region (PCPIR), so far the largest infrastructure project undertaken by the State. The formal agreement for the SEZs was signed in July with the Salim Group of Indonesia. One is a multi-product SEZ on 12,500 acres (5,058.57 hectares) and another a chemical SEZ on 10,000 acres (4,046.85 ha) in which the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) will be a joint-venture partner. The third is a pharmaceuticals SEZ on 3,000 acres (1,214 ha).
"The PCPIR policy of the Central government specifies that such a region would have to cover a minimum of 250 sq km, and we could only identify such a region in Haldia," said Sen. But he pointed out that when developers were eager to set up SEZs in South 24 Paraganas, the State government insisted that they go to Haldia.
Moreover, private developers are also building infrastructure - a four-lane road bridge over the Hooghly river from Raichak to Kukrahati, and another over the Haldi river, from Haldia to Nandigram.
Land acquisition in such projects is unavoidable, but it is the State government's effort to ease the pain through a generous compensation package. Apart from the statutory provisions, that is, market value of the land and 30 per cent solatium, the State government has given an additional incentive of 10 per cent to landowners who have given up their land willingly. There is also a 12 per cent interest on the total value of the land for the interval between the issue of notification and the final transfer. Another unique feature is that for the recorded bargadars (sharecroppers), the compensation allowed is 25 per cent over the land acquisition cost even though the Act stipulates only six times the annual value of crops - the latter falling far short of the former.
For affected marginal farmers who are solely dependent on agriculture, the government is making arrangements for an alternative livelihood through skill upgradation programmes to be arranged by a training institute set up by the SEZ developers. After five years the institute is to be handed over to the government. Apart from this, these project-affected people will be provided space near commercial centres to set up small retail outlets. "They can even rent them out ," said Sen.
Though the State government is enthusiastic about the SEZs, its approach is one of caution. "There are a few important things we take into consideration before we sign any agreement - the location of the site, the profile of the company and its capability to bring in investment, and, if it is product-specific, the competence of developer," Sen said.
In underdeveloped and backward regions like Bankura and Purulia districts, although there are no special incentives, fiscal or otherwise, theterms will be more liberal. "Unless it's a very important project, we don't encourage proposals near and around Kolkata," said Sen. Incidentally, he mentioned that "the Videocon Group will be setting up a multi-product SEZ in Siliguri, North Bengal. We are trying to persuade them to set up a similar project in West Midnapore also."
Sen does not feel that more than five multi-product SEZs are required in the State at the present moment: "We have already received around 18 applications. We have given the go-ahead for four big SEZs. As for product-specific SEZs, there have been quite a few proposals from the IT and ITES sector."
Sen dismissed the fear that such a huge extent of land in the hands of one organisation would breed a "new class of landlords". "Such a situation will not arise in West Bengal. Just as private developers will be bringing in investments, proposals by the State government will also have to be considered by them. In the joint-venture we are participating in, it is categorically stated that our priority will also have to be their priority. In other cases, too, we will have the right to offer recommendations from time to time in the public interest," said Sen.
The State government is not taking any chances. Should a developer go back on his commitment, there are penal clauses signed in the agreement. "Moreover, we are giving land on lease for a specific purpose and that too not all at one go," said Sen.
He also made it clear that labour laws within an SEZ will be no different from the existing ones outside. But to ensure that there is no unnecessary harassment of either party, a single window dispute settlement mechanism will be put in place.