Fighting Injustice in Polepally SEZ

…more than courage it takes WILL to stand up against injustice !

Anti SEZ struggles in South India – The Voices of People

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South India Level Strategy Meeting Against SEZs gave us insights and encouragement to carry forward our struggle. Madhu, Gopal, Yadaiah, Chukkamma, Gopal (Praja kala mandali) and myself attended the meeting.  Many activists across the country working on SEZs, a few research scholars from abroad, struggle groups from Chennai, AP (Coastal Corridor, Nellore and Polepally), Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu were present

Madhumita and Nitya Anandan explained objectives and agenda of the meet.  Manshi Asher gave backdrop of the SEZs, current status in the country, and major issues. She said it’s the bill passed within a day without any discussion on it.  Human Rights issues, women’s issues in Gujarat, forcing women to sell their bodies for 5 rupees a night, environmental and welfare issue etc. Ms. Yamini, a research scholar, gave detailed account of SEZs in four states, the budget and acquisition etc.

Sharing session had each group making presentation. I made the first presentation. Three page note on Polepally was distributed to participants.  I briefed the struggle and strategies, role of state & other groups. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala groups shared their struggles. Polepally team so surprised and curious to see many SEZ  movements outside their place. They identified with other activists & shared concerns transcending language barrier.

Sharing experiences:

Its sad to see disgusting figures of development and sufferings of people. Land acquisition process is same everywhere- luring farmers, threatening, filing cases and breaking the unity. In Tamil Nadu one of the SEZs acquired temple lands. Three villages evicted without any compensation. Trust of the land sold the land directly to SEZ without any notification. There is no legal base to fight for their land. But the struggle is on. Irrespective of land types – patta, assigned, temple etc- the land is grabbed from the people for ‘development’ of companies or owners of companies.  In Kakinada the SEZ land is registered in the name of an individual.  In some villages the company is acquiring lands without LA Act.  Interesting story is of Maharashtra where Reliance Company is hiring agents from administration, top level IAS and IPS officers, students from TISS, ( to survey lands ) and low level police chaps, the agents were  offered Rs 1000 to Rs 30,000 per acre.  Yet the company could get only 13% land in four years.  Local groups, political parties and farmers are strongly opposing the SEZ.

Strategies adopted by several anti- SEZ groups include the following:

1. Jatas in all villages (pada yatras, kala jathas etc to spread the news and gain support)
2. Photo exhibition (lives of people before and after, their cultural, social, economic bond with land) to educate urban youth and urban people
2. Signature campaigns
3. Visits to different places to learn, share and be part of solidarity
4. Support of environmental groups
5. Discussion and debate in TV channels
6. Regularly countering SEZ support statements and news
7. Involving political parties (unfortunately our political parties are SEZ agents)
8. Some are also fighting for better compensation.

Many groups liked our strategies and experiences and there was lot of discussion. Polepally strategy during Elections was discussed most! Polepally blog  is also appreciated.

Aseem Srivastava, journalist, gave detailed picture of SEZs drawing from his extensive research work. He focused on 5 major features of SEZs viz.,

  1. Economic Growth
  2. Generating jobs (direct & indirect)
  3. Adding country’s infrastructure
  4. Foreign currency-hard currency adding
  5. Foreign substitutes

SEZs are only making profits and more profits, one can’t escape this if we choose to follow globalization model, he told.  Economic growth, sheer numbers, looks like they achieved 16 Billion dollars. All the investments are in organized sector only.

Figures of employment generation are misleading, no one knows about how true they are. IBM and other sectors employees figure is not changed in last 35 years.  SEZs are more to organized sector workers than un organised. In 1991 we have 26.7 million jobs and in 2006 we have 26.4 million jobs, less than 8% in organised sector now, the number is ten times more in unorganised sector, “Global Players Rules are also Global” he says.

SEZ exports:

Net exports is positive and no imports so far in the plan.  Even if it is $1 profit or exchange we take it as exchange growth.  There is no limit fixed for that and there is no guarantee that our exports are protected and in fact we may end up  purchasing them (dumping). Most of the IT companies are in SEZs list only to evade income tax.

Infrastructure development:

All SEZs claim that they are meant for the infrastructure development like water, electricity, sewage and roads. But truth is otherwise. None of the SEZs are in underdeveloped localities; they are all in already developed areas.  Though they are supposed to be in non agricultural lands, they are in agricultural lands.

Investments:

Investments are raising, it’s very close to stock market. With convertibility of rupee and inviting Global finance agencies the financiers can take money whenever they want. All SEZs are now in the process of “Land Banking”, they realised the value of land and made a plan of taking it into their hands.  Only 25-35% of land is being used for SEZs and rest all is used for real estates. “If this process of SEZ continues in India, we have to rewrite our constitution. If we put this much amount in NREGA or some other program we will get more benefits than Global development”, he told.

Balagopal gave legal perspective of SEZs. At the outset he mentioned that Law is playing very meager role in SEZ. Agitations are focused on Quantum of employment and quality of employment.  There are so many flaws in SEZ Act. There is no upper limit to SEZs, lower limit is 1000 acres.  After the agitation they made it 10,000 acres but companies are splitting their projects into two or more to make mockery of the Act.  The law doesn’t say where the land be procured.  By the time we open our eyes we see a “developer”, can be an individual, corporate, company, or Govt. Law is blind to these ground realities and Land Ceiling Act of every state is simply ignored.

Anyone purchasing a land should at least bring to the notice of Tahsildar according to law; but that’s never followed.  1984 Land Acquisition Act (LA Act 1984) that talked of “public purpose” now added “company” in the purpose. The “developer” develops a land but not a “SEZ” or Govt. SEZ is nothing but corporate commercial approach. For instance in AP, if a farmer or land owner doesn’t sell to the developer, the Govt will purchase it/ acquire it for the sake of ‘public purpose’. To avoid stamp duty, Govt purchases it at lower price than what a developer offers to the farmer.

APIICs purpose is to sell the land to the investors. Once it acquires the land from farmers it becomes the landlord and real estate broker and sells it to different agencies.  APIIC or Govt is acquiring land without any public purpose now or for future, as the parties it is selling have nothing in common with the objective for which the land was originally acquired. Unfortunately the courts took “statiest” stand and the abuse of “eminent domain”. SEZ is nothing but land grabbing by the state that turned into a real estate broker and developer. 35% processing zone, units will come up to 65%. There is no association between transfer, lease, and land.  Section 49 sub section (1) of SEZ, permits that land acquisition without any notification. Judicial action cannot be taken back where as administration can do. Although labor laws cannot be modified without Parliament amendments, there is violation and it is illegal. A.P Govt insists that minimum wages act be implemented but SEZ lords need not maintain any record and thus throw the law into dust bin. It also speaks of 8 hours working hours, overtime to have double payment and Factories Act has safety measures like wearing Gloves, mask etc. No contractor or employer of SEZ is above these laws. But all these laws are now toothless because Development Commissioner is the head to make any changes in these laws according to SEZ Act. SEZ Act does not recognize local bodies and 73 and 74 constitutional amendments.

Balagopal concluded that SEZ doesn’t see the number of sustainers in a piece of land. After all whether they are patta lands, forest land, grazing lands, temples lands, panchami, assigned, lavani patta, any land is taken at any cost for SEZ development.

“Future Activities” session was facilitated by Nitya Anandan, working with Corporate Accountability and Crimes. A South India Network was suggested as need of the hour as most of the SEZs are in South India. Geeta (Tamil Nadu), Sujatha (AP), Geo, Inyan, Vidya and Fr. Vinod Alwyn (Karnataka) and Madhumita for coordination were members of the South India network.

Activities planned by the network include: Exchange visits/ Dialogue with Trade Unions/ Solidarity/ Election Strategy/ Petition and Memorandum to SC, ST Commission/ Declaration from this meeting and petition against Min. of Commerce/ Peoples’ Tribunal/ RTI filing

Up to November, the specific tasks the committee plans include to seek Trade Unions’ stand on SEZ in each state, a Jata by the anti-SEZ struggle, etc.

National events include:

  • Mock Awards-Mirzafar Awards like in Bhopal Case
  • Human Rights Score Cards on violations
  • Right to work and right to land, right to food
  • Campaign sovereignty
  • Anti SEZ day on March 14th Nandigram violence day (suggested by Balagopal)

Lot many things to do and need to enlist more and more people into the struggle.

Our Polepally team enjoyed a lot in Chennai beach. A moment different from the chronic depression and dull nightmare of the gloomy past. Cheering up in waves, the joy of seeing a new place and interacting with several others who are also fighting an unjust situation thrust on them. It was delighting and a great relief for my colleagues and myself to be away from the routine. Thanks to the sponsorers of Polepally team.

Jai Telangana,
Sujatha Surepally.

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