Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Special Economic Zones and the Land Question in India

Special Economic Zones and the Land Question in India

The land question in India has suddenly attained extraordinary importance in the Media for the past few months. Ekta Parishads Janadesh Yatra few months ago, the agitations for notification of the Adivasi forest land rights bill, the social movements trenchant criticisms of the Rehabilitation Act and Land Acquisition Act has brought the land question into the centre stage of the public discourse. However the news media, which work overtime to sell the American dream and Propogating the 9% growth story suffers from a criminal historical amnesia land rights, tenancy and share cropers rights mere central issue of the historical uprisings massive tribal rebellions from Rajmahal hills in the east to Khandesh in the West more fought by the heroic adivasis against the Marauding British imperialists to save their habitats and commons.

Land and share croppers rights were the central issue in the great Telengana, Punappra Vylar and Moplah Uprisings. In the post Independent India the fight continued in the strong holds of the organised left and other Social Movements like Naxal bari, Bodh Gaya, Srikakulam were some of the well known areas while the struggle continued all over the sub continent.

In fact, land to the tiller has been the central slogan of the organized left other organisations like Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini fought for land rights against the Bodh Gaya Mahant struggles against tribal land alienation is a perpetual phenomenon in all over tribal India.

Postcolonial social movement added a new dimension to the land question in India this time the protest against forcible displacement from the homes, habitats and commons for Mega developmental projects.

Bigdams, Mines, Factories and Industrial townships were declared to be the temples of Modern India, the Indian ruling classes took a path of capitalist development through heavy Industrialisation forcibly displacing millions adivasi's peasants from all over India. There were protests in all over India. Arundhati Roy in her essay Greater common goods says that by early nintees more the four crore farmers and adivasis were displaced due to mega development projects. Post-Independent India has seen massive protests in Hirakud, Baliapal, Gopalpur, Koel Karo, Netarhat, Narmada Valley, Kalinganagar, Singrauli and many other places against their forcible displacement for construction of dams, steel plants, thermal power stations etc. Displacement, right over natural resources including forest and commons, against usury and feudal opression has been the main issues of discontent in Rural India.

India is endowed with huge natural resources and vast fertile lands, forest and labour power, but the paradox is in this country of enormous wealth majority of the population live in extreme poverty. The Indian ruling classes used the label of socialism following independence to adopt a public sector supported capitalist path of development sustained by rapacious neocolonial plunder through bretton woods institutions and imperialist transnational corporations. This paradigm is founded on the predatory profit oriented mercantile principle of inequality as an essential condition of development and decimation of peasantry through the continuation of the extreme backwardness of agriculture. According to the Arjun Sen Gupta committee report on unorganised sector more than 75% of the population subsist on twenty rupees a day around 20% of the population which includes majority of the Dalits and Adivasis hover on the brink news of starvation deaths poor in everyday from different regions of the country. Excruciating poverty causes mass starvation, rampant disease and premature deaths amidst vulgar affluence for a few. In addition large sections of the population have to face crude discrimination in the form of caste, religion, ethnicity and gender reduce them to the status of a slave in their own country.

About 70% of the country's population depends on agriculture directly and indirectly even today. Capital intensive developments has been foisted by the Neocolonial masters for the profits multination corporations who supply agricultural machines, fertilizers pesticides and seeds. The policy has proved to be not only anti poor but against the interests of the country as a whole. It has rendered agricultural labourers and small farmers nonviable who are loosing their lands joining the impoverished reserve army of labour. Under the pressure from the bretton woods institutions subsidies are with drawn while the costs of inputs soar making farming unviable for the majority of farmers especially small middle and marginal peasants. Rising costs of input and low prices of primary commodities has pushed agriculture and its dependant into the brink of disaster. The neoliberal state has been with drawing credits through nationalised bank and cooperatives pushing the farmers to take loans from usurious moneylenders forcing thousands of farmers to commit suicide. The new agricultural policy of 2000 has transformed the very paradigm of agricultural development by throwing the concept of land to the tiller to winds. In its place it introduced priority for cash crops and agriculture for profits to facilitate Mnc's and corporate take over, in the process small and middle farmers are forced to commit suicide and are driven off agriculture. Infact the phenomenon of reverse tenancy has been taking place in the name of contract farming at the behest of agribusiness.In fact, the MNCS and Indian corporations have emerged as new feudal lords in this predatory neoliberal era of global enclosure and ruthless 21st century primitive accumulation.

The powerful class of upper caste absentee landlords represented by the Kulak Lobby in politics are the biggest facilitators for entry of International big business into Indian agriculture in spite of the much flaunted but failed cry about the land reform measures, most of the cultivable lands are in the hands of 10% of the landed gentry. Neither the land ceiling act nor security of Tenancy and other land reforms acts have been implemented effectively during the last six decades. While their is no security of livelihood of landless labourers in spite of the much trumpeted national employment guarantee act, so massive distress migrations to urban slums are a living reality of rural India. The feudal relations in land is one of the biggest reason for the backwardness in agriculture and the chief cause for the extreme poverty and socio economic disparity in rural India.

Under the pressure of radical peasant movements land reform acts were made with enough 100 loopholes to circumvent it with the active connivance of the corrupt upper caste judiciary and bureaucracy.

Therefore radical land reforms with the principle of land to the tiller is the highest priority for India Today.

With neoliberal restructuring of Global Capitalism known as globalisation, the Indian ruling classes adopted the New Economic Policies in 1991 giving up all the pretensions of self reliance, egalitarianism, welfare state, non aligned status etc. Special Economic Zones were a logical outcome of this anti people neoliberal paradigm.

A Special Economic Zone Act was passed in the Indian Parliament in 2005 various states have their own SEZ Acts.

Salient Features of SEZs

A Special Economic Zone is an especially demarcated area of land, owned and operated by a private company, which is deemed to be foreign territory for the purpose of trade, duties and tariffs. SEZs will enjoy exemptions from custom duties, income tax, sales tax, service tax. From the point of view of industry, a SEZ is an industrial cluster with assured infrastructure aimed at increasing the country's export the stated purpose of creating SEZs across India is the promotion of exports. The Commerce and Industries Minister Kamal Nath Claims that exports will ultimately grow five times, GDP will rise 2% and the 30 lakh jobs will be generated by SEZs across India. His also claimed by the Govt. that SEZ will attract global manufacturing through foreign direct investment, enable transfer of Modern Technology and will create incentives for infrastructure.

As of 30 November 2007 according to the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, total no. of approved SEZs are 760, formally approved SEZs are 404, SEZs with in principle approval are 165 SEZs notified after 2005 Act are 172 SEZs functional before SEZs Act are 19.

Many more applications await processing. Total are under SEZs, in 20 states across India is expected to be over 200,000 hectares, an area the Size of National capital region.

This land predominantly agricultural and multi cropped is capable to producing close to one million food grains. If SEZs are seen to be successful in the future and more cultivated land is acquired, they will endanger the food security of the country.

Displacement and loss of livelihoods in SEZs

Estimate Show that close to 114,000 farming household (each house hold on an average comprising five members) and an additional 82,000 farm worker families who are dependent upon these farms for their livelihoods will be displaced. In other words, at least one million people who primarily depend upon agriculture for their survival will face eviction. Experts calculate that the total loss of income to the farming and farm workers family will be at least Rs. 212 crore a year. This does not include other income tax (for instance artisans) due to the demise of local rural economies. The government promise humane displacement followed by relief and rehabilitation. However historical records does not offer any room for hope on this count an estimated 40 million people (of which nearly 40% area Adivasis and 25% Dalits) have lost their land since 1950 on account of displacement due to large development projects. At least 75% of them still await rehabilitation. Almost 80% at the agricultural population owns only about 17% of the total agricultural land, making them near landless farmers. Farmers families and communities depend on a piece of land (for work, grazing) than those who simply own it.

Employment in SEZs

The growth of employment in the entire organised sector since inception of the economic reforms in 1991 has been negligible. The total employment in the organised sector is still less then 3 crore. Even in the IT and ITES the boom areas of the economy employment is less than 15 crore (60% of SEZs are for IT).

The Indian labour force is estimated at 45 to 55 Crore. Thanks to growing automation modern manufacturing grows joblessty around the world. In India automobile production has grown rapidly, while employing hers labour than before. With more automation, rganized services also require limited supplies of labour.

SEZ are actually land grab by the real estate mafia and the coroporate sector

What are SEZs likely to become in few years time? According to a clause in the SEZ Act (section 5(2) as much as 75% of the area under large SEZs above 1000 hectares) can be used for non-industrial purposes. What will the remainder of the land used for?

This lacuna in the law is likely to become a loophole for massive accumulation of land by private players including the real estate mafia, developers and property dealers for the purposes of real estate speculation. This explains why so many of them have been buying land for SEZs. In fact it may well be the case that the rationale for the above clause in the SEZ Act is the uncertainty surrounding the economic attractiveness of SEZs. If adequate productive investment is not forthcoming, the SEZ developer can at least cash in on the land value. Conglomerates like Reliance already own upwards of 100,00 acre of land in the countywide (courtesy - seminar no. 582, sez issue Feb 2008).

In the light of the real estate boom and imposition of JNNURM SEZs have also emerged as a new form of colonial urbanisation. As all of know the majority of urban population are slum dwellers. Slums are not made by slum dwellers, not even by the poor they may actually be built by the poor or by the not so poor slumlord, but they are conceptualised and designed by the capitalist system itself. They exist because the capitalist system needs them. Being designed upon making a profit by exploiting labour the system requires that the cost of labour power kept as low as possible. Imagine if every citizen of Mumbai or Delhi had to buy a flat or a house. Would that be possible on the wages that they are getting today? Even in the organised sector? In Mumbai even a small flat on the outskirts of the city would not cast less than Rs 20 lakhs. Even in the organised sector a worker, with diligence and frugality throughout his life, cannot expect to save that amount even after a lifetime of working.

With the rise of capitalism after the renaissance in Europe, many new cities came up all over the world. Many of the cities that we live in today are a product of these times. New York and Mumbai provide prime examples. These were industrial cities made with the express purpose of utilising the new opportunities for vastly enhanced exploitation of workers afforded by the Industrial revolution. Even the older cities like Rome, London and Delhi had to adapt to this new world order. From the beginning of 18th and 19th centuries and get industrialised. These not able to make this transformation perished, as cities - like Susa in Persia and Badami in Karnataka.

In today's globalised context after the enactment of SEZ Act it is necessary to see the new colonial urbanisation and its connection with, displacement, agrarian crisis, growth of slums and migration. Some growth centres like, Noida, Gurgaon, Bangalore etc tell the sordid human drama behind their glazed tiles and golf courses.

It is interesting to look at the neocolonial urban growth in Maharastra in context of the special economic zones. It will lead us to the reality behind slum demolitions and the hidden hands of the Bombay under world, the builders mafia and the honorable members of the Indian big bourgeoisie.

Maharashtra has always been the favourite destination for investment, especially foreign investment in India. At one time the most Industrialised state in country, it still ranks among the top. However in terms of investment it is clearly, without any close rival, the top most state in India. For example, the amount of bank credit disbursed by public sector banks, in Maharashtra was over 3,71,000 crores in June 2006 (About 32% of the total National Figure). The next closest state was Delhi with less than half the investment in Maharashtra. The total amount in investment projects under execution, in September 2006, in Maharashtra was over Rs. 92,000 crores and the total of investment projects at the same time was around 2,53,000 crores, the highest in the country. In terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) The Economic Survey 2005-06 states "In terms of FDI approvals, however, Maharashtra topped the list followed by Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat. In some estimates Maharashtra accounts for almost one-third of the total foreign investment in India.

Fittingly, Maharashtra is also therefore, the state with the largest number of SEZS (both formally approved in principle) with 89 formally approved and another 32 SEZS approved in principle is more than twice the total area of those which have already been formally approved. This is because the in principle stage mainly applies to those large SEZS where the land has still to be acquired in total, all the SEZS planned till today will occupy around 60,000 hectares of land.

Since the new Economic Policies were adopted Maharashtra has seen fast urban growth. Maharashtra has the highest level of urbanization in India at 42% Compared to 25.7% percent as the all India average. In the context of Land question and Sezs writing about the urbanization experience in Maharashtra is important because this urbanization has not been in the normal organic fashion as in the advanced capitalist countries in the west. The urbanization of Maharashtra has been artificial engrafted urbanization. The people have been driven out of their land by the devastation of agriculture. It must be noted that while Maharashtra has the highest level of urbanization in India and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country. It also has the lowest yield per hectare of food grains in the country at 872 kg/hectare as against 1667 kg / hectare as the national average. It is no coincidence that Maharashtra also has the highest level of peasant suides in the country. It may be argued that the same process of devastating agriculture to feed the cities has taken place in cities like London and Paris in the 17th and 18th centuries and the US during the Civil war However though the condition in urban Maharashtra may be as dismal and revolting as the Western Countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, this misery and poverty is painted not on the background of the London of that time but on the Canvas of today's Mumbai and Delhi where the rich have the latest Cars in the world and the costliest properties in the world.

This makes all the difference in the world. The very degree of massiveness' in the cities of today makes a qualitative difference from the cities of medieval times. Engrafted into this is the unthinkable advanced system of communication and transport. This brings people into more close and intimate contact with the rest of the world. All this makes the level of disparity that is produced and reproduced in cities like Mamba and Delhi, qualitatively different from that in medieval London or Paris.

The people thrown out of agriculture (both in Maharashtra and out side) have been forced to stay in hovels in over crowded and disease ridden slums in the cities. No new cities have been suburban satellites of Mega Polis's. Cities like "New Mumbai and Noida were originally planned as independent cities with their own industrial area. Commercial areas and transport systems. However, they have only developed as suburbs to larger and older cities like Mumbai or Delhi. This has not helped to solve the problems of the cities but only has accentuated them.

It is again no. coincidence that all most all the Sezs are being built only on the fringes of cities - like satellites all over again. A rough Study based upon the "in principle" approved Sez's in Maharashtra shows that around 67% of the land for Sezs's is within 100 km. Of Mumbai. If the cities of Pune and Nagpur are also considered, then a figure of 85% of land for Sezs is arrived at, and if Nashik and Aurangabad are also thrown then about 98% of the land for Sezs in within 100 km of these five cities. Thus there will be no real development. The rural areas will be further devastated. Farmers will commit more suicides larger slums with even more squalor will be created. There will be more crime, more communal riots, more atrocities against dalits and more attacks and exploitation of women as always happens in the condition of squalor.

However the Sezs are not the only instruments for grabbing the lands of the peasantry, millions of acres of land are taken by national and international big business for construction of Greenfield projects, private airports, tourist resorts , health tourism, smart cities, entertainment parks, building of private townships for the superrich including vast areas for golf courses and luxury hotels. To provide infrastructure for super profits of local and multinational big business the state is acquiring millions of acres of fertile land to build industrial zones, golden corridors, express ways including the much flaunted golden quadrangle express highway systems. This is the glaring phenomenon of contemporary global enclosure of forcible depeasantisation ruthlessly divesting the producers from their means of production, cultural moorings and commons.

Adding salt to the injury the neoliberal state is resorting to the most predatory inhuman primitive accumulation of forcing the farmers and adivasi's out of their land when the entire peasantry is reeling under acute agrarian crisis where more than 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the past decade under the neoliberal economic regime.

Another despicable instrument of forcibly uprooting adivasi's from their habitats and livelihoods is the New Mines Policy. The dangers of New Mining Policy has been brilliantly Analysed by friend Mansi Ashar in September October issue of Combat law 2007. (See mined games by Mansi Asher Combat law Volume 6 issues 5 2007)

The key reason being that several recommendation and clauses of the new national mine policy were not acceptable to mineral rich states and Mining Companies, especially steel makers with every party wanting to maintain their control over the rich mineral resources of the country. What has slipped the public eye is probably the very critical changes being proposed to ensure that investments in the mining sector gets a boost by deregulating procedures of environmental and forest clearances. These clearances have been seen as hurdles for quick implementation of mining projects in the past 10 years. It is interesting to note that the sector which was essentially dominated by the public sector companies has in the past decade become the money bags for companies ranging from domestic giants like Tata, Jindal and Birla to global companies like Mittal, Posco, Vedanta, BHP, Billiton Riotinto et al. Hence the stakes of the market are higher, and the new mineral policy is paving the way for second generation reform in the mining sector in India to protect and promote these stakes (Mansi Asher, Combat law).

It is needless to say that real estate and the construction boom is the motor force behind Indias high growth Indicators. Infact the whole country has been converted into a construction site. The real estate and mafia developer and other unscrupulous speculators make millions while the small and middle peasantry is pauperized. In this context the value of land should be critically examined. The entire valuation process is arbitrary and exploitative while the builders and developers buy cheap land sell the developed plots many times higher than the original market price of the said land. On the other hand the peasantry is paid a pittance for the land forcibly acquired through the draconian land acquisition act. In fact land is never valued in financial terms by Adivasi's and farmers for them agriculture is a way of life and they consider land as their mother. For adivasi's the commons, the forests, pastures and water resources are equally important as the tilled land and is sacred. In any Mega projects these are snatched away from them which is like taking the fish out of water.

Of late this notion of sacredness has become a powerful instrument of resistance by the adivasi's for protecting their habitats. In March this year thousands of adivasi's gathered in Niyamagiri hills in Lanjigarh Orissa to worship. They consider the Niyamagiri hills as sacred and this mass worship has become a powerful symbol of protest to save their habitats greedily eyed by the Vedanta Aluminium Company. In nearby Baphlimali hills in Kashipur a heroic struggle is ongoing on for past twelve years to save their habitats from Utkal Alumina at the time of writing this note a dharma is still go in on against Utkal Alumina by Prakrutik Sampad Suraksha Parishad at Kashipur in Rayagada district of Orissa.

It is important to note that the artisans, sharecroppers and landless labourers are the biggest loosers in any forcible land acquisition process they loose both their livelihoods and habitats and don't get any thing in return other than forced destitution and marginilasation . The entire peasantry is up in arms against their forcible eviction all over India for Sezs and other projects. The blood bath at Nandigram was a signal event of peasant resistance against forcible displacement, Fierce Struggles against Sezs and other projects are going on in Raigad Maharashtra against reliance Maha Mumbai Sez, against Posco in Jagatsingh Pur Orissa, Infact entire Orissa has become a battle field. Farmers are struggling against proposed Sezs in Kakinada in Andhra, Mangalore in Karnataka, Jhajjar in Haryana, against the proposed entertainment Sez in gorai near Mumbai and so on.

The land question, the fundamental failure of Independent India, has become one of most debatable and controversial topics today. Although the mass media and the dominant parliamentary political parties suppress any public mention of radical land reform, land to the tillers and the abolition of feudal remnants. The irrepressible reality raised the question in one or another form. Today land grabbing by the private corporate sector, both Indian and of foreign origins especially the MNCs of advanced capitalist countries, in the name of so called "development" and with the aid of government agencies and state machinery, has become a subject that can not be avoided. The reason at base is sixty years of failure to meet the legitimate demands of many crore landless peasants who depend on agricultural land for their subsistence but have no claims deemed fully worthy by the judiciary, still the firmest bastion of colonial mentality. With the introduction of the new economic policy since 1991 what has been a half century of localized injustice and repression became a qualitatively different phenomenon; the theft of land on a scale that could not be kept from public attention.

Thus the land question is the most important question in India today and the slogan "Land to the tiller the core political slogan today. The struggle for land is going on all over India.