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India?s largest pvt city hits roadblock

A retired admiral leads charge against land acquisition for SEZ that's one-third of Mumbai, writes Rajendra Aklekar.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2007 02:20 IST

It was supposed to have been a dull day of public hearings.

But as the parliamentary panel appointed to hear villagers in Raigad district affected by special economic zones (SEZs) assembled at Khalapur panchayat samiti, a young man walked up to panel chairman Kashiram Rana and snatched the hearings file from the table. “It’s mine,” shouted Rana. “I know,” replied the youngster, returning the file. “This is exactly how all of us feel about our land. The government is snatching it away without giving us a say.”

Prasad Bagwe (25), a farmer, had dramatically echoed the sentiments of over 500 project-affected villagers present at the jam-packed hall.

Four SEZs (exclusive industrial zones with their own administrative norms) are planned for Raigad district — the Ranjankhar Industrial Zone, Shahapur Industrial Zone, the Uran/Panvel/Pen SEZ and Khalapur Industrial Zone — that will together cover 84 villages (13,711 hectares).

The SEZs virtually adjoin each other to form India’s largest conglomeration of such industrial zones. They would displace several lakh villagers, taking away their agricultural lands in return for money they don’t want.

The parliamentary panel took notice only after former naval chief Admiral (Retd) L. Ramdas and Peasants and Workers’ Party (PWP) senior leader ND Patil intervened.

The meeting was scheduled for 11 am. Rana finally arrived — at 2.45 pm.

Ramdas owns eight acres in Bhaimala village and is affected by the project himself. “The SEZs will be a disaster for the fertile, irrigated region. The area is rich in rice and mango crops. Apart from displacing people, they will be an environmental catastrophe,” Ramdas told HT.

Most villagers at the meeting were protesting against the Maha Mumbai SEZ promoted by Reliance Industries. Spread over 30,000 acres, displacing 45 villages, it is equivalent to one-third the size of Mumbai and is India’s largest private city. It will have its own sewerage and transport systems and not come under the jurisdiction of any municipal council.

Land in Panvel, Pen and Uran is being acquired for the SEZ that will be close to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

It will have an infotech corridor and will be a stone’s throw from the new international airport in Navi Mumbai as well as Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust.

“Things are not being done right; the government is acquiring land forcibly,” Patil said.

Added a farmer: “Snatching away our land will not only displace us, it will destroy our traditions and culture. Like in Vidarbha, farmers
here will commit suicide if such a thing happens.”

Forced to listen, the parliamentary panel recorded statements and accepted the petitions of the affected farmers.

Rana told Hindustan Times that the committee would prepare a report of the hearing and submit it to Parliament during the Budget Session that begins on February 23.

“Land acquisition is a state subject and we will report that there is strong opposition to the SEZs and that most of the land here is agricultural,” he said.

Email Rajendra Aklekar: rajendra.aklekar@hindustantimes.com

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