Dadar villagers to SEZ it up themselves
Dadar could be any other village along the lush Raigad coast with its fishermen, sand dredgers and idol makers.
With one crucial difference the 1,200-odd families who own land in this island village 80 km southeast of Mumbai have not cultivated a paddy crop here since 1989, when a great flood turned over 2,000 acres of farmland saline.
There is a plan now to morph these unproductive holdings 45 times the size of Nariman Point into industries, offices and residences in four phases over six-seven years. All by villagers themselves, who have come together to form the Kalbhairav Company Ltd, named after the village’s primary idol.
Dadar, and 44 surrounding villages, are being eyed by a group of developers, led by Reliance Industries Ltd, to be part of India’s largest special economic zone a tax-free enclave of manufacturing and service enterprises to jumpstart economic activity.
If Dadar can indeed control its destiny, it could be a solution for similar flashpoints across India. There are 642 SEZs across India, with 75 in Maharashtra, more than in any other state.
The difficulty with state control of SEZs is obvious. Notices to acquire land for the 28,000-acre Maha-Mumbai SEZ have already been slapped on village walls. But no farmer has come forward to sell his land, say land revenue officials.
About 550 families in the village with farms averaging two acres, have, however signed up for Kalbhairav’s proposed project.
Deepak Mhhatre, a young engineer with Ispat Industries Ltd, is among its founding members. “We are not anti-development. But how can we give up our land at undervalued rates for a project about which we have not been told anything? Instead, we want to keep our land, and develop it ourselves, with villagers having shares in the company,” he said.