Thousands of farmers in 22 villages of Raigad district on September 21 participated in a referendum the government held to find out if they were ready to give up land for a special economic zone (SEZ). The villagers may not officially get to know the result for some time yet.
Mantralaya sources, who requested anonymity for protocol reasons, said political compulsions and investor-related concerns had prevented the state from making public the result of the first such referendum in the country.
Non-governmental organisations have already declared that over 95 per cent of the farmers were opposed to the Reliance-promoted SEZ.
So far, the promoter has acquired about 1,500 hectares of land for Rs 600 crore.
The villages want their farms to be out of the Reliance SEZ project because their notified land, which is 3,000 hectares of a total 10,000 hectares, falls under the command area of the nearby Hetavane dam.
Citing the Centre’s 2007 SEZ policy that bars acquisition of irrigated land for SEZs, the villages had demanded a referendum.
The state held the poll and promised to declare the result in a month. But it kept delaying the announcement, citing one reason or the other.
Bureaucrats and politicians who spoke on condition of anonymity said there was a strategy behind the delay. A senior revenue department official said the in-principle consent the Centre’s approval boards had awarded to the Reliance SEZ would expire in June and the notice period given to farmers under the Land Acquisition Act would lapse next month.
“The expiry of notice period and the approval would automatically take care of farmers’ concerns ahead of the general elections,” the official said. “The SEZ promoter will have to either scrap the entire project or start the process all over again.”
At the same time, the government does not want to scare away investors.
“The government fears adverse reaction from prospective investors in the time of recession because the referendum has already set a precedent,” a senior Congress leader said. “Affected farmers may demand a similar exercise in every SEZ.”