Bye Bye Reliance: Pen Tehsil Says No SEZ!

In our continuing concern with the strange times that seem to have befallen our cities, lets not lose sight of the historic battle underway in the countryside. In the first instance of its kind, the referendum on the Maha-Mumbai Special Economic Zone being set up by Reliance has unambiguously returned the verdict of the farmers of Raigad- no SEZ in Pen! As Sanhati notes, the Tata’s 1500 crore investment in Singur sounds like loose change when compared to the one lakh crore that Reliance is planning to sink into 10,000 hectares. 22 villages in the Pen Tehsil voted against the acquisition of their lands at the paltry sum of 10 lakhs per acre. Unsurprisingly, Reliance Industries Limited has said the referendum is “not genuine”:

“Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has said the outcome of the Maharashtra government referendum on Mukesh Ambani-promoted Raigad Special Economic Zone (SEZ) cannot be seen going against the SEZ since the ballot was cast by “so-called farmers” and not the genuine landowners.” He didn’t of course clarify what this cryptic statement means. A “so-called farmer” we presume is a farmer who is so-called because he or she is a farmer?

Reliance has now gone to court saying that the state government has no authority to hold the referendum without permission from the Center because the MOU was signed with the Center. Exactly how Reliance can move the court on center-state relations is unclear to me.

“According to sources, the petition said that the state government could not announce a referendum without the Centre’s consent as the SEZ had received an approval in principal from the central government and the area had been demarcated as an SEZ.” Such is the arrogance of the corporates and so convinced are they that the political process exists solely to facilitate them that Reliance expressed surprise at the decesion by a state government to actually consult people on whether they wished to be dispossed of their land. Reliance wished they had been informed before the government took this “radical” step.

“However, thats small consolation for Reliance, which expressed surprise over the state governments sudden decision. Though Mumbai SEZ Pvt Ltds spokesperson declined to comment, sources close to the company said the state government should have informed the company before taking such a decision.”

We’ll keep that in mind next time Mukesh – consult Reliance so that inconvinient things like democratic process don’t get in the way of the “brass-band of capital”. And Chief Secretary Johnny Joseph was quick to assure industry that this was a “special case” in case anyone get the wrong impression that this anamalous state of affairs where farmers might actually be given the right to determine their own destinies might become the de riguer way of doing business. Still, sadly Mr Ambani, it seems in an election year, one lakh crore is not nearly enough to cushion the government’s backside from the potential fallout of what happens to the royal gaddi when people are kicked off their land without consent. Singur and Nandigram are too painfully close to ignore.

5 thoughts on “Bye Bye Reliance: Pen Tehsil Says No SEZ!”

  1. Aarti, what is great about this is that even if violence is used to grab the land, the whole world will know for sure that this was oppression, and our favourite paper will not be able to blame ‘Naxalites’ and ‘NGOs’! Between democracy and ‘development’, I choose democracy.

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  2. Last week we have seen two approaches to the question of SEZs. In the first, the Raigad Collector is sensitive to the opposition to the proposed SEZ and announces a referendum. Of course, the final outcome will be based not just on the number of votes, but the Collector’s report on the whole issue. Reliance has challenged the referendum in court, but the Collector’s decision has allowed free voice to the local people.

    In the second, the Left parties in Kerala’s ruling coalition agree that the state must have SEZs, but then grapple with each other over the conditions that must be placed in the policy. There is much heat around the debate between the CPI(M) and the CPI, with the CPM State Secretary calling the debate a mere media creation and the CITU declaring that anti-SEZ is anti-`development’. I wonder what will happen when SEZs are announced and land-losers wake up. Many more Chengaras?

    At a meeting in Kolkata some days back, Governor Gopal Gandhi had said that land is not a dematerialised share certificate, that thinking should not start when a crisis is upon us. For the powers that be, democracy is alien and the people are all d-mat, they don’t exist till they begin shouting and screaming, and then they must be demonised and crushed. Raigad has bucked that general trend.

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  3. However, the government clarified that no more referendums will be undertaken for land acquisition in others SEZs and mega projects and Deshmukh said the referendum process in Pen taluka was an exception. [Link]

    There we go, there we go…

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  4. This is the age of double-think. What I find ludicrous is that the government can say this with a straight face.

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