Roll back SEZ

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Tuesday 15 July 2008

Maharashtra farmers block Mumbai-Goa highway

thousands of farmers from 22 villages in Pen taluka of Maharashtra's Raigad district blocked the national highway from Mumbai to Goa on June 17 to protest the upcoming MahaMumbai special economic zone (sez).

Reliance's Navi Mumbai sez plans to acquire 45 villages in Raigad district to develop the 10,000-hectare sez. Twenty-four of these villages are in Pen, 20 in Uran taluka and one in Panvel taluka.

"The 22 villages in Pen are in the command area of Hatavane dam, hence legally their 6,500 ha of irrigable land cannot be acquired for sez," said Ulka Mahajan of Shoshit Jan Andolan, a Raigad-based civil society group. "The Centre mandates not to use irrigable land for sez development," says Ganesh Thakur of Wadvali village in Pen. "In July last year, the state government assured us that our farmlands would not be acquired for sez. It is now reneging on its commitment and has accepted Reliance's rehabilitation package," Mahajan said.

According to Reliance, its rehabilitation package is attractive: about Rs 10 lakh per acre (.4 ha). This apart, the landholders can buy back 12.5 per cent of the land once developed at a rate decided by the government. Those who do not want to buy will be paid Rs 5 lakh per acre as one-time payment. There is a third option as well: a monthly payment of Rs 5,000 per acre. The package also offers provision for employment; vocational and technical training of one person per project-affected family; and an investment of Rs 90 crore in the civic infrastructure of the affected villages.

People are not appeased. "The Rs 360-crore Hetavane dam project is almost ready and it's time for us to benefit from it. Instead, Reliance is forcibly acquiring our land, offering us just Rs 10 lakh per acre, when the market rate is Rs 60-70 lakh per acre," said Thakur.

Villagers as well as anti-sez activists accuse the state government of acting surreptitiously. "The issue related to Reliance's rehabilitation package came up for discussion at the Maharashtra rehabilitation authority's February 6 meeting," says Pratibha Shinde of Nandurbar-based Punarvasan Sangharsh Samiti who is a member of the authority. "I opposed the package since the state government had promised to relieve 22 villages in Pen of the sez. It was decided that the final decision would be taken after studying the proposal and vetting people's comments on the issue. But there is a discrepancy in the minutes of the meeting that read that the authority has accepted Reliance's package. This has angered people."

Maharashtra rehabilitation minister Patangrao Kadam has said that the government had not yet "accepted" Reliance's proposal. N D Patil, a senior Peasants and Workers Party leader who is spearheading the protest, however, warned of going on hunger strike if the government did not take back the sez proposal. All eyes are now on the rehabilitation authority's next meeting in early July.

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