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Acquiring wasteland for sezs has been touted as an acceptable compromise, but it begs several questions. Though wastelands seem to be in high demand, be it for jatropha plantations to get biodiesel (Planning Commission target is 11 million ha), or for plantations for the paper and pulp industry (the Confederation of Indian Industries has a target of 36 million ha) or, now, for sezs, identifying which tract of land is waste is problematic.
Land classification in India is complex compartmentalising land into the categories waste and agricultural is not as easy as the commerce ministry imagines. Both these classifications have numerous layers within them. Wastelands, for example, can be land with scrub, grazing land, pasture, land on which shifting cultivation is carried out or even agricultural land locked within a notified forest (India has 55.2 million ha of wastelands).
And, of course, there is the issue of people -- the poorest, most marginalised in the most backward of states -- who depend, for day-to-day survival, on these very 'wastelands'. Most of these lands provide firewood, fodder and other minor forest produce. Meaning, much of the land classified by the government as waste is actually common property resource (cpr). This makes market-based valuations nonsensical.
The centre's own survey of cprs speaks of the rural population's dependence on them. According to the 54th round of the National Statistical Survey Organisation survey, about 15 per cent of India's geographical area is cpr, including community pastures and grazing grounds, village forests and woodlots, and cultivable wastelands. And 61 per cent of cpr land falls into the category of barren or waste land. It also showed that the average cpr area rural households were dependent on was 0.31 ha while the average area of land owned was 0.84 ha. The survey also explained that a lower average for cpr land meant more people depend on the same land and not that cprs were of lesser importance (see graph Not so common). Asher adds, "It is estimated that cprs contribute about 12 per cent to the income of poor rural households in India."
As far as grazing goes, the survey added that while 56 per cent of rural households reported having livestock, 20 per cent of households depended on cpr land for grazing and 13 per cent collected fodder from it. The data also showed that the smallest villages were most dependent on cprs for subsistence.
In spite of the importance of cprs, the area under them is constantly shrinking. The two fastest rates of decline were in the middle-Gangetic (7.2 per cent) and trans-Gangetic (7.1 per cent) regions, where the availability of cpr land per household was as low as 0.07 ha. And the pressure on the shrinking land is increasing.
|"The SEZ free
run is politically very shortsighted. You are taking resources from the
poorest and handing it over to the industry."
V P SINGH,
On the surface, it seems very logical to hand over so-called wastelands for sezs. But the legal classification of wastelands in India is further enmeshed in the vexed question of the rights of people, or rather the lack of them. "I am worried that no one is talking about user rights of people over land, but only about owner rights," says Kanchan Chopra, director, Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi.
Asher explains the problem in the context of Reliance's sez, which will come up in Raigarh district, Maharashtra.Almost 12,000 ha in this district, known as dali lands, have been cultivated by tribal folks for decades. "The problem is that these tribal rights have not been regularised yet. But if the Scheduled Tribes Bill is passed then these people will get their titles," Asher says. As of now, these tribal people can be removed from their only source of livelihood and not be compensated. Like dali lands, there are mahoratan and gairan lands, which are classified as wasteland but are actually either allotted to landless dalits or are grazing lands. According to an ncas report, in Maharashtra's Marathwada region, gairan lands cover 231,300 ha, which is 3.6 per cent of the total area and on average each village has 230 ha of gairan land. "It is very hard to find contiguous tracts of land, not separated by grazing lands or watersheds. But that is exactly what sezs need," says Asher. Although in 2002-2003, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, declared that all government wasteland should be for the landless and dalits, the centre today says sezs shall have first right over wastelands.
The Adani sez in Mundra, Gujarat, is a similar case. The grazing lands for 10 villages out of the 23 acquired have been engulfed by this sez. Gujarat has about 577,284 ha of pasture. The common grazing lands were given away in spite of a state government order of 1973 that provides for 40 acres (16 ha) of pasture to be allotted per 100 animals per village. "This order was notified because of the scarcity of grazing lands in the state. However, a couple of days back the cabinet passed an order saying no agricultural land will be acquired but grazing lands will be," says Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra. Again, more people are being pushed onto less land the pressure is building.
Finally, the big question even if we are going to give away these 'wastelands', where are they (see table Waste variation). If we compare the states where most of the sezs have been approved and where most of the wasteland is located, there is no correlation. In fact, the comparison undermines any semblance of credibility to policy pronouncements about locating special zones on wastelands. Punjab, which has the smallest percentage of wasteland in India (2.33 per cent), has 11 approved sezs whereas Himachal Pradesh, with almost 51 per cent of its land as wastelands, has one sez. The number of sezs in Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Sikkim, which have more wasteland than many other states, is zero. Apart from this, the numbers point to another problem skewed regional growth.
Most of the sez proposals and approvals have come up in the more developed states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Haryana. Areas near metros and ports are in high demand for better infrastructure. Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh account for 65 per cent of sezs approved. Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, the hill states and the northeastern states have been left out.
|"It looks probable
that SEZs will be used for
freeing land for real estate through a back door"
It is because of existing regional imbalances that entrepreneurs are given incentives to invest in backward states, especially in the infrastructure sector. Be it Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal or the northeast, every state has an industrial policy to give a fillip to industrialisation and attract investment in sectors where the risk factor is high. More often than not, such policies include tax holidays, among other things.
But stark inequalities were generated between the northern and northeastern hill states by these separate policies. Industries obviously preferred Himachal or Uttaranchal to Assam or Meghalaya because of proximity to cities and, of course, better infrastructure. The Himachal and Uttaranchal industrial policies virtually cancelled out whatever incentive the northeastern states were providing. As a result, the Northeastern Industrial Policy of 1997 failed (see 'Revamp, really?', Down To Earth, July 15, 2005). It could not attract large-scale investment, creating some small and medium enterprises, especially those engaging in the finishing stages of manufacturing. These units came with low investment, low value-addition and low employment. Even within the region, the developed states, Assam and Meghalaya, attracted most of the investment (91 per cent). Again, it was better connectivity with the mainland, quality of infrastructure and logistics, which ushered in investment.
Given the varied stages of industrialisation in our states, tax breaks won't help significantly in promoting industrialisation in the absence of proper infrastructural facilities. The sez experience, up until now, is already providing evidence of this. In all of the northeast, only Assam, the state with at least a semblance of an infrastructure, has received project proposals one for Sonitpur district and another for Tinsukia district -- one has been rejected and the other is on hold. Shantikam Hazarika of the Assam Institute of Management, when asked about sezs, said the odd industry may buy in but there would be no systematic industrial growth with sezs in the northeast.
The approach paper to the 11th five-year plan doesn't offer any solutions. It says, "In a competitive world, investment must be allowed to flow to locations perceived to have an attractive investment climate and better infrastructure facilities. The primary responsibility for achieving balanced regional development within states must necessarily lie with the state government." This means that even the Planning Commission does not consider it necessary to address regional imbalances by offering central assistance to backward states. It's a policy frame that abdicates the centre's federal responsibilities and makes every state fend for itself, whatever its capacities.
"If you look at the national map of National Highway Development Programme, you can see the clear focus from the north to the south, minus most of the centre and the east. Now, when you superimpose the sez impact on this, it is just going to explode," warns Debroy.