Yet another proposed special economic zone (SEZ) has run into a wall of opposition from villagers whose lands the government is set to acquire.
The 5,000-acre Ranjankhar Industrial Zone will displace 50,000 families across 22 villages sandwiched between the Alibaug-Rewas coastline and the even more controversial Reliance Mahamumbai SEZ.
What’s worse, the state government hasn’t informed the villagers of the decision that will change their lives forever. It took a leaked state secretariat letter followed by a Right To Information (RTI) request by civil engineer Amit Patil (30) for villagers to know that the status of the agricultural belt had been changed from green zone to industrial area on October 27, 2006, under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) Act (1961).
MIDC is to jointly develop the SEZ with India Bulls Infrastructure Ltd. India Bulls, on its website, is already talking about setting up an industrial processing area, residential and commercial complexes, hotels and shopping malls. However, a spokesperson for the company refused to comment. "We are unable to answer your queries because the project is in its early stages,” said Kruti Sharma, India Bulls’ public relations officer.
On the same day that the land status was changed an official communication — a copy of which is with the HT — was sent from the Industries Department to the Raigad District Collectorate, informing it of the notification on ‘India Bulls Infrastructure Ltd’s multipurpose SEZ’ and asking it to initiate land acquisition.
An incensed Patil, who owns a small vegetable farm in Narangi, one of the affected villages, told HT: “This is a land-grab. MIDC has frozen all land dealings and will force us to accept poor compensation for our property. MIDC will then sell it to India Bulls, which will make crores at our expense.”
Among the land-owners is 74-year-old former naval chief Admiral L. Ramdas. It took him 10 years of post-retirement life to turn around 10 acres at Karlekhind near Alibaug (108 km south of Mumbai) into lush mango, chickoo and guava orchards. The land was gifted to him by the Central Government after Ramdas won a gallantry award in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
Fourteen years after he retired and made Karlekhind his home, Ramdas stands to lose it all to the SEZ.
"The government is acting like a broker for real-estate sharks. How can displacing 50,000 families from their agricultural land be in the public interest?” thunders Ramdas. “This area survives on agriculture and horticulture. There was no need or demand to change the status quo,” added Maruti Patil, a 74-year-old retired school teacher who grows alphonso mangoes on his 26-acre farm.
But Industries Minister Ashok Chavan, who is also ex-officio chairman of MIDC, isn’t too perturbed. “I don’t think there is an issue. The government will talk to the farmers if they have any complaints,” he said. “MIDC is developing the SEZ jointly with India Bulls. We have informed the Raigad collector about it but the zone status was changed by the Urban Development Department (headed by Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh). It’s their jurisdiction.” Chavan, though, assured that fertile land would not be acquired.
MIDC Regional Officer Dr NK Bhosale in his reply to Patil’s RTI query, revealed how the land would be acquired and sliced up. "Ranjankhar will be developed by MIDC. After the land is acquired through revenue officials, MIDC will decide on its layout and allot it to the interested parties," he stated.
Guardian minister of Raigad, Sunil Tatkare (NCP) admitted that this was a horticulture and agriculture belt. "MIDC should resurvey this land and talk to farmers before going ahead with the ptoject. It’s a decision taken on paper, it can be withdrawn if the farmers grievances are genuine."