Saturday, April 7, 2007

ACTION 2007 Press Release

PRESS RELEASE 31st March 2007

SEZs have to go, people's movements tell UPA Government

Delegation Submits Memorandum on SEZs to Pranab Mukherjee

§Repeal the SEZ Act 2005

§Stop all ongoing lad acquisitions

§Stop political double standards, Congress and UPA Allies warned

A people's delegation from ACTION 2007, a collective of people's organisations from across the country, comprising Meher Engineer, Professor Arun kumar, Medha Patkar, Bhupindra Singh Rawat, Uma Shankari, Prasad Bagve, Simpreet Singh, Mohan Rao, Ashish Mondoloi, Ajit Jha, Baijnath Prasad and Rifat Mumtaz met the Chairman of Empowered Group of Ministers on SEZs Shri Pranab Mukherjee at his residence on 31 st March to highlight the impacts of the Special Economic Zone policy and Act on the people. At a special dialogue called by the people's movements, the representatives and minister discussed various aspects of SEZs and their impact.

The delegation pointed out that despite repeated demands made by farmers and local people to stop forced acquisition the government instead of having a dialogue with the people the state governments are using force of the state machinery to subvert and violently suppress people's protests which has resulted in merciless killings of poor people in places like Nandigram and Singur. Meher Engineer, academician from the Intellectual's Forum said that the incident in Nandigram has brought to the fore the growing angst against the democratic rights of the people being jeopardised.

Medha Patkar started by speaking about the Nandigram SEZ, specifically focusing on the process of land acquisition and role of the state. She also submitted a report by an independent fact finding team of eminent and concerned citizens on Nandigram and the recent police action there. "What we have seen in both Maharashtra and West Bengal is that no gram sabha consultation took place before initiating land acqusition for SEZ projects" she said.

The delegation appreciated that Sonia Gandhi and the Empowered Group of Ministers is reviewing the SEZ policy and has even put a halt to the approvals. However, stressed that "so far we do not see any of the concerns being raised by us being taken into account."

Professor Arun Kumar from JNU spoke about the growing disparity between the agriculture and industrial growth rates. "The investment in agriculture, on which 60% of the population depends, is a mere 5% and investment in organised sector is 65% on which only 5% of the population depends. This is also adding to the disparity between urban and rural societies" he said.

Some of the concerns placed before the Chairman included the forced acquisition of land by the use of the LAA 1894 leading to large scale displacement destruction of Agro-based economy, loss of local agriculture, fisheries based and other artisans traditional livelihoods and issues of food security with no guarantees of alternative employment

Prasad Bagve, an affected farmer of the proposed Mahindra SEZ in Pune District pointed out that the land that is being sought for the SEZ is multi cropped land as against what is being reported by the local administration and project proponents of it being wasteland. "In Raigad District Reliance is using force and money power with the poorest to capture their lands. If this does not stop there will be a second Nandigram soon".

The delegation expressed dissatisfaction that the government is now issuing a new notification which gives the responsibility of Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation to the SEZ developers. Uma Shankari from Andhra Pradesh pointed out that deals between paupers and millionaires cannot be in favour of the former. Referring to the Kakinada SEZ she said how the promises of compensation remain unfulfilled to date.

The discussion came back to the fact that even after so many years we still do not have a Rehabilitation Policy. And the Draft National Development, Displacement and Rehabilitation Policy proposed by people's groups and approved by NAC in December 2005 is lying unused by the government. "We are perturbed to see a new draft coming up every time, weaker and without any process to build consensus. The need is to bring in an Act (not just a policy) on Development Planning, Minimum Displacement and Just Rehabilitation, abolishing Land Acquisition Act, 1894." said the members of the delegation

Baijnath from Jharkhand gave the example of the upcoming Adityapur SEZ and said that even in 5 th schedule areas where adivasi population is large in numbers the 73 rd amendment of the Constitution is being blatantly violated.

The delegation said that all these issues have been raised at meetings with the Union Minister of Commerce, the Special Secretary MoC, Minister of State (MoC) from September 2006 onwards by delegations of civil society members but no attention has been paid. "Instead in the time that has lapsed more that 200 projects have received approvals by the Ministry of Commerce and 63 projects have been notified. More and projects are being pushed for notification on the ground that these projects do not have any "land acquisition issues" and that the land is already available with developers. We would like to point out that this is not true as in many of the projects land has only been acquired in parts and even if land has been acquired the conflict between the state and people is not completely resolved." said the memorandum that was submitted to Pranab Mukherjee by the delegation.

The delegation demanded

§ Repeal of the SEZ Act and enactment of a National policy on Development Planning and Just rehabilitation of the displaced

§ that the process of approvals and notification of SEZs be put on hold

§ an immediate dialogue or consultation be initiated with people's groups and communities to seek opinion on whether SEZs will help in strengthening the development of local economies and what could be the options suitable opportunities for them

Coordination Committee

(Contact – 9910345405)

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