[Reader-list] sez land question and urbanisation in india a marxist persepective

Asit asitreds asitredsalute at gmail.com
Tue Jun 10 12:58:09 IST 2008

Dear Friends and Comrades

                             there is a tendency amongst activists and
acdemics to look at the land question, displacement, agrarian crises,and
urban poverty in isolation. Iam sending you a write up where I have tried to
trace the linkages among the above factors.Please send your comments,
criticisms and suggestions .

*Special Economic Zones and the Land Question in India*

The land question in India has suddenly attained extraordinary importance in
the Media for the past few months. Ekta Parishads Janadesh Yatra few months
ago, the agitations for notification of the Adivasi forest land rights bill,
the social movements trenchant criticisms of the Rehabilitation Act and Land
Acquisition Act has brought the land question into the centre stage of the
public discourse. However the news media, which work overtime to sell the
American dream and Propogating the 9% growth story suffers from a criminal
historical amnesia land rights, tenancy and share cropers rights mere
central issue of the historical uprisings massive tribal rebellions from
Rajmahal hills in the east to Khandesh in the West more fought by the heroic
adivasis against the Marauding British imperialists to save their habitats
and commons.

Land and share croppers rights were the central issue in the great
Telengana, Punappra Vylar and Moplah Uprisings. In the post Independent
India the fight continued in the strong holds of the organised left and
other Social Movements like Naxal bari, Bodh Gaya, Srikakulam were some of
the well known areas while the struggle continued all over the sub

In fact, land to the tiller has been the central slogan of the organized
left other organisations like Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini fought for land
rights against the Bodh Gaya Mahant struggles against tribal land alienation
is a perpetual phenomenon in all over tribal India.

Postcolonial social movement added a new dimension to the land question in
India this time the protest against forcible displacement from the homes,
habitats and commons for Mega developmental projects.

Bigdams, Mines, Factories and Industrial townships were declared to be the
temples of Modern India, the Indian ruling classes took a path of capitalist
development through heavy Industrialisation forcibly displacing millions
adivasi's peasants from all over India. There were protests in all over
India. Arundhati Roy in her essay Greater common goods says that by early
nintees more the four crore farmers and adivasis were displaced due to mega
development projects. Post-Independent India has seen massive protests in
Hirakud, Baliapal, Gopalpur, Koel Karo, Netarhat, Narmada Valley,
Kalinganagar, Singrauli and many other places against their forcible
displacement for construction of dams, steel plants, thermal power stations
etc. Displacement, right over natural resources including forest and
commons, against usury and feudal opression has been the main issues of
discontent in Rural India.

India is endowed with huge natural resources and vast fertile lands, forest
and labour power, but the paradox is in this country of enormous wealth
majority of the population live in extreme poverty. The Indian ruling
classes used the label of socialism following independence to adopt a public
sector supported capitalist path of development sustained by rapacious
neocolonial plunder through bretton woods institutions and imperialist
transnational corporations. This paradigm is founded on the predatory profit
oriented mercantile principle of inequality as an essential condition of
development and decimation of peasantry through the continuation of the
extreme backwardness of agriculture. According to the Arjun Sen Gupta
committee report on unorganised sector more than 75% of the population
subsist on twenty rupees a day around 20% of the population which includes
majority of the Dalits and Adivasis hover on the brink news of starvation
deaths poor in everyday from different regions of the country. Excruciating
poverty causes mass starvation, rampant disease and premature deaths amidst
vulgar affluence for a few. In addition large sections of the population
have to face crude discrimination in the form of caste, religion, ethnicity
and gender reduce them to the status of a slave in their own country.

About 70% of the country's population depends on agriculture directly and
indirectly even today. Capital intensive developments has been foisted by
the Neocolonial masters for the profits multination corporations who supply
agricultural machines, fertilizers pesticides and seeds. The policy has
proved to be not only anti poor but against the interests of the country as
a whole. It has rendered agricultural labourers and small farmers nonviable
who are loosing their lands joining the impoverished reserve army of labour.
Under the pressure from the bretton woods institutions subsidies are with
drawn while the costs of inputs soar making farming unviable for the
majority of farmers especially small middle and marginal peasants. Rising
costs of input and low prices of primary commodities has pushed agriculture
and its dependant into the brink of disaster. The neoliberal state has been
with drawing credits through nationalised bank and cooperatives pushing the
farmers to take loans from usurious moneylenders forcing thousands of
farmers to commit suicide. The new agricultural policy of 2000 has
transformed the very paradigm of agricultural development by throwing the
concept of land to the tiller to winds. In its place it introduced priority
for cash crops and agriculture for profits to facilitate Mnc's and corporate
take over, in the process small and middle farmers are forced to commit
suicide and are driven off agriculture. Infact the phenomenon of reverse
tenancy has been taking place in the name of contract farming at the behest
of agribusiness.In fact, the MNCS and Indian corporations have emerged as
new feudal lords in this predatory neoliberal era of global enclosure and
ruthless 21st century primitive accumulation.

The powerful class of upper caste absentee landlords represented by the
Kulak Lobby in politics are the biggest facilitators for entry of
International big business into Indian agriculture in spite of the much
flaunted but failed cry about the land reform measures, most of the
cultivable lands are in the hands of 10% of the landed gentry. Neither the
land ceiling act nor security of Tenancy and other land reforms acts have
been implemented effectively during the last six decades. While their is no
security of livelihood of landless labourers in spite of the much trumpeted
national employment guarantee act, so massive distress migrations to urban
slums are a living reality of rural India. The feudal relations in land is
one of the biggest reason for the backwardness in agriculture and the chief
cause for the extreme poverty and socio economic disparity in rural India.

Under the pressure of radical peasant movements land reform acts were made
with enough 100 loopholes to circumvent it with the active connivance of the
corrupt upper caste judiciary and bureaucracy.

Therefore radical land reforms with the principle of land to the tiller is
the highest priority for India Today.

With neoliberal restructuring of Global Capitalism known as globalisation,
the Indian ruling classes adopted the New Economic Policies in 1991 giving
up all the pretensions of self reliance, egalitarianism, welfare state, non
aligned status etc. Special Economic Zones were a logical outcome of this
anti people neoliberal paradigm.

A Special Economic Zone Act was passed in the Indian Parliament in 2005
various states have their own SEZ Acts.

Salient Features of SEZs

A Special Economic Zone is an especially demarcated area of land, owned and
operated by a private company, which is deemed to be foreign territory for
the purpose of trade, duties and tariffs. SEZs will enjoy exemptions from
custom duties, income tax, sales tax, service tax. From the point of view of
industry, a SEZ is an industrial cluster with assured infrastructure aimed
at increasing the country's export the stated purpose of creating SEZs
across India is the promotion of exports. The Commerce and Industries
Minister Kamal Nath Claims that exports will ultimately grow five times, GDP
will rise 2% and the 30 lakh jobs will be generated by SEZs across India.
His also claimed by the Govt. that SEZ will attract global manufacturing
through foreign direct investment, enable transfer of Modern Technology and
will create incentives for infrastructure.

As of 30 November 2007 according to the Union Ministry of Commerce and
Industry, total no. of approved SEZs are 760, formally approved SEZs are
404, SEZs with in principle approval are 165 SEZs notified after 2005 Act
are 172 SEZs functional before SEZs Act are 19.

Many more applications await processing. Total are under SEZs, in 20 states
across India is expected to be over 200,000 hectares, an area the Size of
National capital region.

This land predominantly agricultural and multi cropped is capable to
producing close to one million food grains. If SEZs are seen to be
successful in the future and more cultivated land is acquired, they will
endanger the food security of the country.

Displacement and loss of livelihoods in SEZs

Estimate Show that close to 114,000 farming household (each house hold on an
average comprising five members) and an additional 82,000 farm worker
families who are dependent upon these farms for their livelihoods will be
displaced. In other words, at least one million people who primarily depend
upon agriculture for their survival will face eviction. Experts calculate
that the total loss of income to the farming and farm workers family will be
at least Rs. 212 crore a year. This does not include other income tax (for
instance artisans) due to the demise of local rural economies. The
government promise humane displacement followed by relief and
rehabilitation. However historical records does not offer any room for hope
on this count an estimated 40 million people (of which nearly 40% area
Adivasis and 25% Dalits) have lost their land since 1950 on account of
displacement due to large development projects. At least 75% of them still
await rehabilitation. Almost 80% at the agricultural population owns only
about 17% of the total agricultural land, making them near landless farmers.
Farmers families and communities depend on a piece of land (for work,
grazing) than those who simply own it.

Employment in SEZs

The growth of employment in the entire organised sector since inception of
the economic reforms in 1991 has been negligible. The total employment in
the organised sector is still less then 3 crore. Even in the IT and ITES the
boom areas of the economy employment is less than 15 crore (60% of SEZs are
for IT).

The Indian labour force is estimated at 45 to 55 Crore. Thanks to growing
automation modern manufacturing grows joblessty around the world. In India
automobile production has grown rapidly, while employing hers labour than
before. With more automation, rganized services also require limited
supplies of labour.

SEZ are actually land grab by the real estate mafia and the coroporate

What are SEZs likely to become in few years time? According to a clause in
the SEZ Act (section 5(2) as much as 75% of the area under large SEZs above
1000 hectares) can be used for non-industrial purposes. What will the
remainder of the land used for?

This lacuna in the law is likely to become a loophole for massive
accumulation of land by private players including the real estate mafia,
developers and property dealers for the purposes of real estate speculation.
This explains why so many of them have been buying land for SEZs. In fact it
may well be the case that the rationale for the above clause in the SEZ Act
is the uncertainty surrounding the economic attractiveness of SEZs. If
adequate productive investment is not forthcoming, the SEZ developer can at
least cash in on the land value. Conglomerates like Reliance already own
upwards of 100,00 acre of land in the countywide (courtesy - seminar no.
582, sez issue Feb 2008).

In the light of the real estate boom and imposition of JNNURM SEZs have also
emerged as a new form of colonial urbanisation. As all of know the majority
of urban population are slum dwellers. Slums are not made by slum dwellers,
not even by the poor they may actually be built by the poor or by the not so
poor slumlord, but they are conceptualised and designed by the capitalist
system itself. They exist because the capitalist system needs them. Being
designed upon making a profit by exploiting labour the system requires that
the cost of labour power kept as low as possible. Imagine if every citizen
of Mumbai or Delhi had to buy a flat or a house. Would that be possible on
the wages that they are getting today? Even in the organised sector? In
Mumbai even a small flat on the outskirts of the city would not cast less
than Rs 20 lakhs. Even in the organised sector a worker, with diligence and
frugality throughout his life, cannot expect to save that amount even after
a lifetime of working.

With the rise of capitalism after the renaissance in Europe, many new cities
came up all over the world. Many of the cities that we live in today are a
product of these times. New York and Mumbai provide prime examples. These
were industrial cities made with the express purpose of utilising the new
opportunities for vastly enhanced exploitation of workers afforded by the
Industrial revolution. Even the older cities like Rome, London and Delhi had
to adapt to this new world order. From the beginning of 18th and 19th
centuries and get industrialised. These not able to make this transformation
perished, as cities - like Susa in Persia and Badami in Karnataka.

In today's globalised context after the enactment of SEZ Act it is necessary
to see the new colonial urbanisation and its connection with, displacement,
agrarian crisis, growth of slums and migration. Some growth centres like,
Noida, Gurgaon, Bangalore etc tell the sordid human drama behind their
glazed tiles and golf courses.

It is interesting to look at the neocolonial urban growth in Maharastra in
context of the special economic zones. It will lead us to the reality behind
slum demolitions and the hidden hands of the Bombay under world, the
builders mafia and the honorable members of the Indian big bourgeoisie.

Maharashtra has always been the favourite destination for investment,
especially foreign investment in India. At one time the most Industrialised
state in country, it still ranks among the top. However in terms of
investment it is clearly, without any close rival, the top most state in
India. For example, the amount of bank credit disbursed by public sector
banks, in Maharashtra was over 3,71,000 crores in June 2006 (About 32% of
the total National Figure). The next closest state was Delhi with less than
half the investment in Maharashtra. The total amount in investment projects
under execution, in September 2006, in Maharashtra was over Rs. 92,000
crores and the total of investment projects at the same time was around
2,53,000 crores, the highest in the country. In terms of foreign direct
investment (FDI) The Economic Survey 2005-06 states "In terms of FDI
approvals, however, Maharashtra topped the list followed by Delhi, Tamil
Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat. In some estimates Maharashtra accounts for
almost one-third of the total foreign investment in India.

Fittingly, Maharashtra is also therefore, the state with the largest number
of SEZS (both formally approved in principle) with 89 formally approved and
another 32 SEZS approved in principle is more than twice the total area of
those which have already been formally approved. This is because the in
principle stage mainly applies to those large SEZS where the land has still
to be acquired in total, all the SEZS planned till today will occupy around
60,000 hectares of land.

Since the new Economic Policies were adopted Maharashtra has seen fast urban
growth. Maharashtra has the highest level of urbanization in India at 42%
Compared to 25.7% percent as the all India average. In the context of Land
question and Sezs writing about the urbanization experience in Maharashtra
is important because this urbanization has not been in the normal organic
fashion as in the advanced capitalist countries in the west. The
urbanization of Maharashtra has been artificial engrafted urbanization. The
people have been driven out of their land by the devastation of agriculture.
It must be noted that while Maharashtra has the highest level of
urbanization in India and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the
country. It also has the lowest yield per hectare of food grains in the
country at 872 kg/hectare as against 1667 kg / hectare as the national
average. It is no coincidence that Maharashtra also has the highest level of
peasant suides in the country. It may be argued that the same process of
devastating agriculture to feed the cities has taken place in cities like
London and Paris in the 17th and 18th centuries and the US during the Civil
war However though the condition in urban Maharashtra may be as dismal and
revolting as the Western Countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, this
misery and poverty is painted not on the background of the London of that
time but on the Canvas of today's Mumbai and Delhi where the rich have the
latest Cars in the world and the costliest properties in the world.

This makes all the difference in the world. The very degree of massiveness'
in the cities of today makes a qualitative difference from the cities of
medieval times. Engrafted into this is the unthinkable advanced system of
communication and transport. This brings people into more close and intimate
contact with the rest of the world. All this makes the level of disparity
that is produced and reproduced in cities like Mamba and Delhi,
qualitatively different from that in medieval London or Paris.

The people thrown out of agriculture (both in Maharashtra and out side) have
been forced to stay in hovels in over crowded and disease ridden slums in
the cities. No new cities have been suburban satellites of Mega Polis's.
Cities like "New Mumbai and Noida were originally planned as independent
cities with their own industrial area. Commercial areas and transport
systems. However, they have only developed as suburbs to larger and older
cities like Mumbai or Delhi. This has not helped to solve the problems of
the cities but only has accentuated them.

It is again no. coincidence that all most all the Sezs are being built only
on the fringes of cities - like satellites all over again. A rough Study
based upon the "in principle" approved Sez's in Maharashtra shows that
around 67% of the land for Sezs's is within 100 km. Of Mumbai. If the cities
of Pune and Nagpur are also considered, then a figure of 85% of land for
Sezs is arrived at, and if Nashik and Aurangabad are also thrown then about
98% of the land for Sezs in within 100 km of these five cities. Thus there
will be no real development. The rural areas will be further devastated.
Farmers will commit more suicides larger slums with even more squalor will
be created. There will be more crime, more communal riots, more atrocities
against dalits and more attacks and exploitation of women as always happens
in the condition of squalor.

However the Sezs are not the only instruments for grabbing the lands of the
peasantry, millions of acres of land are taken by national and international
big business for construction of Greenfield projects, private airports,
tourist resorts , health tourism, smart cities, entertainment parks,
building of private townships for the superrich including vast areas for
golf courses and luxury hotels. To provide infrastructure for super profits
of local and multinational big business the state is acquiring millions of
acres of fertile land to build industrial zones, golden corridors, express
ways including the much flaunted golden quadrangle express highway systems.
This is the glaring phenomenon of contemporary global enclosure of forcible
depeasantisation ruthlessly divesting the producers from their means of
production, cultural moorings and commons.

Adding salt to the injury the neoliberal state is resorting to the most
predatory inhuman primitive accumulation of forcing the farmers and
adivasi's out of their land when the entire peasantry is reeling under acute
agrarian crisis where more than 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the
past decade under the neoliberal economic regime.

Another despicable instrument of forcibly uprooting adivasi's from their
habitats and livelihoods is the New Mines Policy. The dangers of New Mining
Policy has been brilliantly Analysed by friend Mansi Ashar in September
October issue of Combat law 2007. (See mined games by Mansi Asher Combat law
Volume 6 issues 5 2007)

The key reason being that several recommendation and clauses of the new
national mine policy were not acceptable to mineral rich states and Mining
Companies, especially steel makers with every party wanting to maintain
their control over the rich mineral resources of the country. What has
slipped the public eye is probably the very critical changes being proposed
to ensure that investments in the mining sector gets a boost by deregulating
procedures of environmental and forest clearances. These clearances have
been seen as hurdles for quick implementation of mining projects in the past
10 years. It is interesting to note that the sector which was essentially
dominated by the public sector companies has in the past decade become the
money bags for companies ranging from domestic giants like Tata, Jindal and
Birla to global companies like Mittal, Posco, Vedanta, BHP, Billiton
Riotinto et al. Hence the stakes of the market are higher, and the new
mineral policy is paving the way for second generation reform in the mining
sector in India to protect and promote these stakes (Mansi Asher, Combat

It is needless to say that real estate and the construction boom is the
motor force behind Indias high growth Indicators. Infact the whole country
has been converted into a construction site. The real estate and mafia
developer and other unscrupulous speculators make millions while the small
and middle peasantry is pauperized. In this context the value of land should
be critically examined. The entire valuation process is arbitrary and
exploitative while the builders and developers buy cheap land sell the
developed plots many times higher than the original market price of the said
land. On the other hand the peasantry is paid a pittance for the land
forcibly acquired through the draconian land acquisition act. In fact land
is never valued in financial terms by Adivasi's and farmers for them
agriculture is a way of life and they consider land as their mother. For
adivasi's the commons, the forests, pastures and water resources are equally
important as the tilled land and is sacred. In any Mega projects these are
snatched away from them which is like taking the fish out of water.

Of late this notion of sacredness has become a powerful instrument of
resistance by the adivasi's for protecting their habitats. In March this
year thousands of adivasi's gathered in Niyamagiri hills in Lanjigarh Orissa
to worship. They consider the Niyamagiri hills as sacred and this mass
worship has become a powerful symbol of protest to save their habitats
greedily eyed by the Vedanta Aluminium Company. In nearby Baphlimali hills
in Kashipur a heroic struggle is ongoing on for past twelve years to save
their habitats from Utkal Alumina at the time of writing this note a dharma
is still go in on against Utkal Alumina by Prakrutik Sampad Suraksha
Parishad at Kashipur in Rayagada district of Orissa.

It is important to note that the artisans, sharecroppers and landless
labourers are the biggest loosers in any forcible land acquisition process
they loose both their livelihoods and habitats and don't get any thing in
return other than forced destitution and marginilasation . The entire
peasantry is up in arms against their forcible eviction all over India for
Sezs and other projects. The blood bath at Nandigram was a signal event of
peasant resistance against forcible displacement, Fierce Struggles against
Sezs and other projects are going on in Raigad Maharashtra against reliance
Maha Mumbai Sez, against Posco in Jagatsingh Pur Orissa, Infact entire
Orissa has become a battle field. Farmers are struggling against proposed
Sezs in Kakinada in Andhra, Mangalore in Karnataka, Jhajjar in Haryana,
against the proposed entertainment Sez in gorai near Mumbai and so on.

The land question, the fundamental failure of Independent India, has become
one of most debatable and controversial topics today. Although the mass
media and the dominant parliamentary political parties suppress any public
mention of radical land reform, land to the tillers and the abolition of
feudal remnants. The irrepressible reality raised the question in one or
another form. Today land grabbing by the private corporate sector, both
Indian and of foreign origins especially the MNCs of advanced capitalist
countries, in the name of so called "development" and with the aid of
government agencies and state machinery, has become a subject that can not
be avoided. The reason at base is sixty years of failure to meet the
legitimate demands of many crore landless peasants who depend on
agricultural land for their subsistence but have no claims deemed fully
worthy by the judiciary, still the firmest bastion of colonial mentality.
With the introduction of the new economic policy since 1991 what has been a
half century of localized injustice and repression became a qualitatively
different phenomenon; the theft of land on a scale that could not be kept
from public attention.

Thus the land question is the most important question in India today and the
slogan "Land to the tiller the core political slogan today. The struggle for
land is going on all over India.

Note- For the case studies of farmers resistance struggle against Reliance
Maha Mumbai SEZ in Raigarh Maharastra and POSCO, Jagatsinghpur, Orissa.See
the author's personal webpage at www.revolutionarynucleus.blogspot.com


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