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Sunday, April 25, 2010

National Panel on SEZs recommends scrapping of SEZ Act

The National People's Audit of Special Economic Zones in India, was held in New Delhi on 19th, 20th April, 2010, at the Nehru Memorial Auditorium. Organised by a collective of people's movement groups, social and research organisations and academics, this two-day national convention is a culmination of state-level people's audit of SEZs that was conducted in several states of India, through last year (2009-2010).

The National Audit panel comprised of following eminent persons and thought leaders:
1. Kuldip Nayar (Journalist and Columnist)
2. Devaki Jain(Development Economist)
3. Admiral (Retd.) Ramdas(Former Naval Chief and Magsaysay awardee)
4. K. B. Saxena (IAS - Retd.)
5. Dr. Meher Engineer(Physicist and Former Director of Bose Institute, Kolkata)
6. Rahul Bose(Actor and activist campaigning against discrimination)
7. Ashish Kothari(Environmentalist, Kalpavriksh Action Group) and
8. Vrinda Grover (Advocate, Delhi High Court)

Manshi Asher, activist and researcher, introduced the Gujarat chapter and tried to lay out the details before the audience. “Gujarat is being trumpeted by its Chief Minister as the SEZ capital of India. The first claim is that most of the export revenue earned from SEZs originates from Gujarat while the second claim is that SEZ implementation has been virtually resistance or protest-free – since no agricultural land has been forcibly acquired from farmers and farmers have either been willing to sell their lands or wasteland land has been allotted to SEZ.” According to Manshi, who has worked extensively on this issue, “the lie behind the first claim can be nailed on the fact that bulk of the export revenue originating in Gujarat is from the Jamnagar refinery. Also, the other so called successful and high export SEZs were already operational and profitable industry hubs, before being conferred with the status of SEZs. This is a lie that the Government presents to the people and has to be exposed to the all.” For the second claim of the Government, she said “most land that was originally given to SEZs was acquired decades back, by the Gujarat State Industrial Development Corporation. Obviously there will be no protest for land that was acquired in the 80's and 90's.”

Bharat Patel from the Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan presented the resistance against the Mundra Port and SEZ which was endangering the livelihoods of over 1000 fisher-families in the region. “The area around the Kutch coast has been labelled as an ecologoically sensitive area in Government and MoEF reports, yet the Adani group proceeded with construction and cutting down of the Mangrove forest without any Environment clearance. This just shows the extent to which there is collusion between the Government and the corporates.”

The complete presentation can be seen below:

Mundra Issues - SEZ Audit

At the end of the two day summit, after hearing the testimonies of people from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa, the panelists recommended the following to the Government:

  1. The SEZ Act should be immediately repealed.

  2. All consideration of pending applications should be stopped forthwith.

  3. All SEZs given approval so far (notified or in principle), should be reviewed through a participatory public process. Where local community consent is not obtained, they should be withdrawn. Where they are to continue, they should be subject to all environmental, labour, tax and other laws of the country, converting them to normal industrial estates, and taking back the excess lands.

  4. Farmers, fishers, and other local communities who have been displaced should be urgently rehabilitated, back into the areas they were displaced from, with clear tenurial rights (especially community rights) to the land, within a year.

  5. Farmers, fishers, and other local communities who have been deprived of their lands and/or resources (without being physically displaced) should be given back their lands and/or access to resources, as far as possible in their original state, with clear tenurial rights (especially community rights) to the land and/or resources, within a year.

  6. Developers must be made to remedy the ecological damage, and health hazards, created by their activities.

  7. A full investigation, with public involvement and full transparency, should be conducted into allegations of malpractice, illegality, and misbehaviour on part of corporations, agencies, and officials; and appropriate punishments given to those found guilty.

  8. In place of SEZs, the government must facilitate the security of livelihoods of communities living off the land, helping them enhance agricultural, forestry, fisheries, rural industrial, or other means of livelihoods. Several innovative initiatives of decentralised economic and political democracy (including on people’s economic zones, sustainable agriculture, rural industries, renewable energy, and so on), that are being led by communities and civil society organizations, should be supported and encouraged.

  9. The State’s power of eminent domain over land and natural resources should be brought in line with the mandatory consent of local communities; this would include the replacement of the Land Acquisition Act or other such laws of the centre and the states with laws that are more democratic.