Regional battles over land being acquired for industrial projects are taking the shape of a national campaign. A slew of civil society groups, trade unions, non-governmental organisations and grass roots activists have joined hands to plan an all-India agitation against India's expanding Special Economic Zones.
Representatives of national networks, including activist Medha Patkar's National Alliance For People's Movements, Kolkata-based trade union Paschim Banga Khet Samiti and the National Alliance of Agricultural Workers Union, the New Trade Union Initiative, People's Union for Civil Liberties, the CPI-led National Federation of Indian Women, along with myriad other regional groups from across India, have agreed to meet in New Delhi on February 8 to prepare a strategy. A second meeting later in the month will finalise their game plan.
"The aim of the whole endeavour is to influence government policy," says Anuradha Talwar, president of the Paschim Banga Khet Samiti, a 22,000 strong non-political trade union in West Bengal. The protests will kick off with a rally outside the West Bengal Resident Commissioner's office in Delhi on January 29.
The groups plan similar protests all over the country to build momentum towards a national convention later this year. The strategy is to not go after specific projects but to question the government's entire industrialisation policy, which they believe will lead to the displacement of people. With an important budget session of the Parliament coming up, as well as elections in several key states on the horizon, the timing of the group effort is significant.
Sensing unrest, the government has already suspended new approvals of such economic zones. Some 63 of these economic zones, have already been approved in various states. These are government-sanctioned economic zones with significant tax concessions aimed at promoting industrial and commercial activity. In recent weeks, there have been regional battles over the zones, especially in West Bengal, and politicians of all hues have started jumping on to the anti-SEZ bandwagon.
In the run-up to the February meetings, a citizen's committee led by historian Sumit Sarkar, human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves, editor of left-wing daily Mainstream, Sumit Chakravarti, and Krishna Majumdar from the NFIW will visit Nandigram on the 26th, 27th and 28th of January on a fact-finding mission.