In India's first-ever such exercise, landowners in 22 villages of Maharashtra's Raigad district took part in a referendum on Sunday, informing the state government in writing whether they were willing to part with their land for the Reliance Group-promoted Mumbai Special Economic Zone or not.
District Collector Nipun Vinayak said only 6,151 of 30,057 eligible farmers took part. But that disappointed neither the anti-SEZ nor pro-SEZ brigades. They were confident of a favourable outcome. Vinayak said the administration would declare the outcome in a few days time.
Declaration of the result depends largely on the outcome of a petition the Reliance Group has moved against the government. The company wants the court to declare the process null and void as it signed an MoU with the government for land acquisition five years ago.
The exercise didn't witness any violence. In Kaleshri village, some farmers blocked entry to all except police and revenue officials, but that was it. “We don't want anyone else except government people involved,” said Arun Mhate. In other villages like Chota Bhal, Motha Bhal and Vitthalwadi, where the SEZ would affect a large number of farmers, HT found hundreds recording their statement at official booths in zila parishad schools.
Farmers were given questionnaires and besides writing down their decision, they were asked to justify it so that the administration could analyze every detail and then submit a report based on the findings.
Forum Against Globalisation coordinator Vaishali Patil said the farmers said a firm no to the SEZ. “We ensured little scope for the government to arrive at any other inference that could defeat the purpose of this exercise. About 80 per cent farmer voted against the SEZ at today's referendum.”
“I don't want to sell my land,” said Damaji Patil of Vashi. “I retired as a teacher. I have three graduate sons who till the 3 acres and do other manual jobs to support my family. We're happy to lead a simple life.”
But Pen Taluka Farmers Welfare Association president D.M Mhatre dismissed his claim, saying: “In most villages, farmers favour SEZ. The anti-SEZ people tried tricks to lure people but managed to convince them into favouring the project that would change their lives forever.”
Sudam Mhatre of Wadav village said he didn't oppose the SEZ and would sell only if offered a hefty price.