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SEZ concept enormously destructive: Govt report

By Sreelatha Menon
November 27, 2009 09:53 IST
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SEZSpecial economic zones are nothing but special exemption zones and there is no reason to exempt these from all law.

Hence, scrap these, is the recommendation of the Committee on Land Reforms and Agrarian Relations set up by the Union government to advise it on issues ranging from land reforms and land acquisition to measures to stop conversion of farm lands.

It says the SEZs should be scrapped in the interest of both ecology and food security. While the loss of revenue in the form of taxes as well as its effect on agricultural production are not being studied, the law is silent on the ecological and environmental concerns of areas thse would apply to, the committee says.

According to the SEZ Act, 2005, there is no upper limit for land acquisition by state governments. It also allows acquisition of wasteland and single-crop land, putting negative impact on common property resources like land, forest and water bodies.

The committee cites the Raigarh SEZ which Reliance wishes to develop in Maharashtra on 12,000 hectares of land cultivated by tribals for decades.

It also questions the claims of investments for SEZs. It says the projected investment in 63 SEZs is Rs 166,785 crore (Rs 1,667.85 billion). It says Rs 67,500 crore (Rs 675 billion) is accounted for just by one 10 sq km multi-product SEZ in Kakinada.

Locationally, 92 per cent of this proposed investment is in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat (46 per cent each). The proposed investment in units is therefore extremely skewed.

It also challenges the claim about the SEZs being a new avenue of job generation, saying the information available about proposed direct employment for 110 SEZs is a total of 2.14 million.

Of this, 61 per cent is in the IT/ITeS sector, exceeding the entire current employment in that sector. And, 85 per cent of this proposed employment is in just five states, with 40 per cent in Andhra Pradesh alone.

The 200,00 hectares proposed to go for SEZs is, says the report, predominantly agricultural and typically multi-cropped land, capable of producing close to one million tonnes of foodgrain.

And, that close to 114,000 farming households (each household comprising five members) and an additional 82,000 farm-worker families will be displaced. That means a million people face eviction.

Almost 80 per cent of the agricultural population owns only about 17 per cent of the total agriculture land, making them near-landless farmers.

Far more families and communities depend on a piece of land (for work, grazing) than those who simply own it, it notes. It also questioned the procedure to value the land taken over. It further points out that it is not bound by environmental laws and the EIA notification, 2006, issued by the ministry of environment, leaves out SEZs.

Moreover, the SEZ developer and units would also be exempted from taxes levied by the local bodies. It further says the SEZ Act of various states gives a blank cheque to the water requirement for the zones.

For example, the Gujarat Act says, "The SEZ developers will be granted approval for development of water supply and distribution system to ensure the provision of adequate water supply for SEZ units."

It has given examples of the diversion proposed from hydro projects for SEZs, and for other major industrial projects coming up on acquired land, such as Posco mammoth steel project in Orissa -- the daily water requirement, it says, is 286 million litres per day, to be procured from the Jobra barrage on the Mahanadi, from the upstream Hirakud dam. There is already an agitation against reservation of water from the Hirakud dam for industrial purposes, the report notes.

Tata Steel says report not being factual

Tata Steel, which has been named by the land reforms committee in the context of land acquisition against the wishes of people, has complained to the ministry of rural development that the report has levelled false accusations against the company.

"The report accuses us of being the supporter and the first financier of Salwa Judum, the so-called anti-Naxalite movement of the people of the area.

"We would like to clarify here that the Salwa Judum movement was already operational before we signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government for setting up the steel plant in the region. We emphatically declare that we have never supported or financed Salwa Judum or any such organisation.

"We are not connected with them in any way.''

"For the displaced families of Kalinganagar (Orissa), we have gone beyond the stipulations of R&R policy to give long-term assurance for better quality of life and this has led to the formation of concept of 'Tata Steel Parivar' -- Tata Steel's own R&R programme.

"We are proud to say that we are the only company to have implemented such a benevolent initiative for the rehabilitation of the displaced villagers. This unique initiative, apart from ensuring improvement in quality of life, is also giving importance to the cultural and emotional requirements of the displaced tribals.

Till date, nearly 900 families have been rehabilitated and their progress is monitored closely. We shall be implementing Tata Steel Parivar at other greenfield projects of Chattisgarh & Jharkhand,'' says the rejoinder.

"With regard to the report in question, we have written to the minister of rural development and Panchayati Raj, who is the chairman of the committee, protesting the bizzare conclusion that is reported by the Committee without any basis and without even meeting our officials.''

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Sreelatha Menon in New Delhi
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