Monday, February 04, 2008

Symposium on SEZs

The Seminar's latest issue is on SEZs, a subject which has engaged the attention of our contributors recently.

In the Problem, posed by Aseem Shrivastava, an independent economist in Delhi, (who himself is a critic of SEZ) it is said: " The SEZ story cannot be grasped in the fullness of its implications unless and until it is placed in the wider context of policies for rapid urbanization and upgradation of Indian cities.... There are large loopholes in the SEZ law which leaves the door wide open for land being acquired for real estate speculation... The diversity of resistance to the SEZ policy across the country offers encouraging conclusions for the resilience of democracy in the country."

The package includes answers to FAQs on SEZs, an interview with Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath (who says SEZs have nothing to do with land acquisition) and a few insightful articles, mostly critical of SEZs. Of these, Kannan Kasturi(independent researcher and writer on law)'s article on "Of Public Purpose and Private Profit" will be of interest to us. The author agrues that when powers of eminent domain are exercised, we need to ensure that the law looks at the entirety of loss of rights of all the affected people, not just of those owning or occupying property. Further, the loss of rights because of an acquisition needs to be compensated by the granting of new rights through resettlement and rehabilitation, not just by monetary compensation.

The article by Manshi Asher and Patrik Oskarsson, who are currently researching the implications of SEZs in different states of India, is based on their recent field investigation in Gujarat, where the SEZ experiment has been ostensibly successful, without any murmur. The authors suggest that a fragmented society polarized around caste, religion and class makes the possibility of opposition by the 'losers of resrouces' even more difficult in a business-oriented Gujarat.

Aseem Shrivastava observes that by shifting the very mode of governance towards the corporate sector, they will render unaccountable and opaque decision making which will have long-lasting and widespread consequences for the citizens of the country.
Jonathan Jones, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political Science, University of Florida, Miami, has included a Tableon some key social movements against SEZs across India in West Bengal, Goa, Karnataka,Maharashtra and Orissa.

Vasudha Dhagamwar, Founder and former director, MARG, Delhi, says there are two separate and two seemingly contradictory lessons to be learnt from Goa. First, activists may not always represent the people; so, go slow on the opposition. Second, if the idea behind a SEZ is to convert land to non-agricultural use and provide non-agrarian employment, Goas has done it already by having a sizeable tourist industry and absorbing people in the non-agrarian sector. So, go slow on SEZ. 15 SEZs in a state as small as Goa appears an overkill. Even if a SEZ in Goa employes only an average of one lakh or even 50000 people each, they will open up so much employment that Goa will be swamped out of recognition (Goa's population is only 9 lakh). If a single industry SEZ is allocated 250 acres of land and a multi-industry SEZ is allocated 1000 acres then the landscape of Goa will change beyond recognition and it will no more be a top tourist destination, the author observes.

All in all, the issue is a must-read for us, who are keenly interested in the SEZ controversy.
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