After putting up the red flag against the Singur special economic zone (SEZ) and getting detained in West Bengal, social activist and leader of the National Alliance of People's Movements Medha Patkar has now written to the government to repeal the SEZ Act and Rules, 2005.
Patkar wrote a letter this week to Union External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is heading the Group of Ministers looking into the SEZ issue. She cited many reasons like the history of tardy implementation of rehabilitation programmes for the displaced, potential negative impact that SEZs might have on environment, the anti-democratic nature of the concept and possible labour law violations to argue why the act should be repealed and approved SEZs cancelled.
Patkar cited the yet-to-be implemented National Rehabilitation Policy-2003 with its objective "to minimise displacement and identify non-displacing and least displacing alternatives." She added that what has also not been implemented is the "new and improved draft of NRP-2005, approved by the National Advisory Council chaired by Sonia Gandhi in 2006."
Instead, she told Mukherjee that new and weaker rehabilitation programmes are being drafted. "The need is to bring in an Act (not just a policy) on Development Planning, Minimum Displacement and Just Rehabilitation, (after) abolishing the Land Acquisition Act, 1894," Patkar said.
The government, incidentally, has put on hold new SEZ approvals to draw up a new rehabilitation and compensation package.
She added, "The promise of rehabilitation as a precondition has never been fulfilled in the case of the project-affected people whether in the Narmada valley or any area elsewhere. The farmers who were compelled to give up their land and life for dams, mines, infrastructure or industries have mostly become destitute without an alternative livelihood."
On the issue of environment, Patkar wrote, "SEZs with industries, infrastructure or even real estate development are bound to have environmental impacts such as impacts on water, drainage, land (with reclamation, pollution or even demographic changes)" She questioned the rationale behind keeping SEZs out of the domain of 'environment impact assessment'.
Patkar added that land acquisition means transfer of huge resources away from the agrarian communities to industrialists and builders. "Is this not against the principle of justice which demands that we give priority to the farming populations in our agrarian economy and to the unorganised sector workers in the face of disparity between the organised and the unorganised workers," she asked.