As the Parliamentary panel appointed to conduct public hearings of villagers in Raigad district sat at the public hall of Bhalapur Panchayat Samti, more than 100 km from Mumbai, a young man walked to the chairman of the panel, Kashiram Rana, and took away the hearings file placed on the table. "It’s mine," shouted Rana. "I know," replied the youth, returning the file. "This is the exact feeling that all of us here have about our lands. The government is just snatching them away without allowing us to have any say."
Twenty-five year old Prasad Bagwe, an HSC-pass farmer, echoed the sentiments of more than 500 affected villagers that were present at the jam-packed small thatched-roof structure.
The panel was expected to be at the Panchayat office by 11 am, but tried to evade the protesting farmers. It was only after the former chief of Navy Staff Admiral (retired) L Ramdas and Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) senior leader ND Patil intervened that Rana finally came down at quarter to 3.
The protestors from Raigad district were against the Mahamumbai SEZ project spanning across 30,000 acres (45 villages) from Navi Mumbai to Pen – part of the booming Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) region.
The former chief of Navy Staff Admiral (retired) L Ramdas, one among the villagers waiting since morning, has 8-acres of land in Bhaimala village of Raigad district and is one of the “project affected people”.
“The SEZ projects will be a disaster for the entire region, which is fertile and irrigation land. The area is rich in rice crop and mangoes that are famous internationally. The power projects will not only displace people and villages, but also be an environmental catastrophe.” Ramdas told HT.
“Things are not being done in the right way and the government is acquiring land in a forcible manner at many places in the region,” PWP leader Patil said.
“The land acquisition will only displace us, but also our traditions and cultures. Poor farmers here too will begin to commit sucide if such a thing happens,” A Patil, one of the farmers said.
The delegation tape-recorded statements and took petitions of all the affected farmers. Kashi Ram Rana, chairman of the panel, told HT that the committee will prepare a report of the entire public hearings and submit it to the Parliament during the coming budget session that begins on Feb 23. “Land acquisition is a state subject and we shall report that there has been strong opposition to the SEZ project and most of the land here is on agricultural land,” he said.
Villagers use RTI to expose SEZ reality
Project-affected villagers of Raigad district stunned the Parliamentarians when they produced government documents on how the land acquisition had been planned and orders and notifications issued. Ganesh Thakur, a fisherman, said, ”Sir, we have used the RTI Act and got hold of all these documents so that we could show you the evidence in black and white.” Thakur also submitted proposed maps of the SEZ that were being circulated to mislead the villagers.