Now Reliance’s Raigad SEZ faces opposition

By Shyam Pandharipande


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Pen (Maharashtra) : Even as Singur and Nandigram simmer in West Bengal, signs of serious trouble are evident in Raigad district of Maharashtra where Reliance Industries, India's largest private sector conglomerate, is setting up a 14,000-hectare Special Economic Zone (SEZ), billed to be the biggest in Asia.

Farmers in 46 villages in Pen, Uran, Panvel and Alibag tehsils of the paddy growing coastal district of Konkan are angry as the land acquisition process is in flagrant breach of repeated promises by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

It is no different from farmers' protests against land acquisition for industry in Singur and Nandigram of West Bengal or in Orissa for South Korean steel major Posco's project.

Vaishali Patil of the Jagatikaran Virodhi Kriti Samiti (anti-globalisation action committee) said the government was all set to issue a notification under Section 6A of the Land Acquisition Act, which provides for forcible takeover of land.

"We lifted the blockade of the Mumbai-Goa highway March 23 after the chief minister's assurance and dispersed from our April 5 rally in Mumbai, again due to a similar promise, only to be betrayed like this," Patil told IANS.

Corroborating on her claim, naib tehsildar V.M. Warange said: "The land acquisition process is on because we have no instructions from the government to stop it."

He said his office had also sent the requisite enquiry report and proposal for notification to the secretariat.

Contradictory statements by Deshmukh and Revenue Minister Narayan Rane are only reinforcing the confusion and suspicion among Raigad farmers that the government is up to a game.

While the chief minister recently reiterated his no-land-acquisition-by-government promise, Rane thundered around the same time that the process was on and will remain so, prompting Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) legislator Jayant Patil to ask who among the two was the chief minister.

Not all farmers are in a mood to fight. Many have in fact sold their land or are in the process of doing so.

Absentee landlords settled in cities, who form a sizeable chunk of the farming community in the region, are biding their time for a better price. Also, the younger generation is disinclined to continue the tradition of farming.

And not all the socially conscious people in the state quite agree that the SEZ would spell doom for the farmers – in Raigad or elsewhere, given the losing proposition that agriculture has become and the fairly decent compensation and rehabilitation packages on offer.

Highlighting the salient features of the compensation and rehabilitation package submitted by the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance group, which is buying land for the mammoth SEZ, Dilip Chaware, its corporate communications director, asserts that it is the best offered by any SEZ developer in India.

"We are offering a price of Rs.1 million per acre to farmers for their land, employment to one member of the family and 12.5 percent share of his land in the developed SEZ among other things", Chaware told IANS.

Juxtaposed with the findings of a survey of the status of agriculture in Raigad district that the average per acre farm income there is no more than Rs.10,000, the package on offer should convince a reasonable person that far from being ruined for life, the farmers would be better off post-SEZ, Chaware said.

But what has angered the farmers more than the land acquisition is perhaps the "fraud" being allegedly perpetrated on them by so-called agents of Reliance group.

Nagya Goura Bhoir, a small farmer from Janavli village in Pen tehsil, was surprised to see such an 'agent' at his doorstep with a cheque for Rs.50,000 against an 'agreement to sell' his four-acre land that he had never entered into.

Assisted by his literate neighbour, he saw that a bigger surprise was in store for him – the signatures on the agreement were forged and the land registration document and a copy of a ration card attached to it were fake too, said Jayant Patil.

"Finding 11 similar cases of fraud, including four for which land-sale agreements were registered, we lodged a complaint with the police against two Reliance 'agents' besides the local Reliance officer," he added.

Determined to resist land acquisition both by the government and the private firm, the Samiti-affiliated farmers are planning to hold a massive protest rally Saturday, right in front of the land acquisition office here.

"We are trying to bring together all farmers and activist groups in the district for the rally, which retired justice P.B. Savant has agreed to address," Vaishali Patil said.

As for the alleged fraud surrounding land purchase deals in Pen, Chaware said Reliance had not appointed any agents in the proposed SEZ area to acquire land.