Are Projects For People, Or People For Projects?”

SEZs typically create a few thousand jobs for outsiders while displacing thousands more who are currently surviving on the land. Most SEZs will use the land’s resources to produce goods for outside markets which no locals can buy and which provide no value addition to their lives. A public hearing on the Mangalore Special Economic Zone revealed how rules were flouted and records fudged, compensation was not paid and promised jobs never materialised, and how land and groundwater were polluted.

A contented people who ask for nothing from the government make their living on their own little plots of land, nurturing and nourishing the earth that sustains them. Into this self-sustaining system, the state government wants to plant a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which will be given huge subsidies, tax exemptions, incentives and freedom from several laws that govern the rest of India. In return, the SEZ will spew poisons into the land, water and air and ruin the land’s ability to sustain life. The government calls this “public purpose”.

SEZs typically create a few thousand jobs for outsiders while displacing thousands more who are currently surviving on the land. Most SEZs will use the land’s resources to produce goods for outside markets which no locals can buy and which provide no value addition to their lives. The government sites the SEZ on fertile land and converts it into a wasteland and then gives wasteland to those displaced, on which they can grow nothing. It then calls all this ‘development’.

A series of public hearings by civil society groups, led by the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information is in progress around the country to look into the pros and cons of the SEZ concept.

All along the Indian coastline, a coastal corridor of special economic zones — or Special Exploitation Zones, or REZs (Real Estate Zones), as those concerned about this regressive development call them — will affect 4.17 crore persons living in these sensitive areas. In a policy unveiled in 2007 by the central government, these SEZs will demarcate Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Regions (PCPIRs), one of which is the Mangalore SEZ.

Almost a quarter of Mangalore taluka, or 3,985 acres, is envisaged to be taken up by the Mangalore SEZ (MSEZ), a petroleum and petrochemical complex, an extension of the earlier Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd project.

The MSEZ website claims that only 28% of the land intended for the SEZ is cultivated, but these figures are contested by locals who say that with 4,000 mm of rain a year, this can’t be true. In addition to land, the MSEZ is being promised 45 mgd of water, partly to be sourced by building additional dams on the Nethravathi river, the life-line of farmers and several towns in DK district, including Mangalore city. Sundar Rao, an activist, says, “Only 10-12 mgd water is available in the Nethravathi. Currently no water of Nethravathi is reaching the sea, being completely utilised. The Nethravathi has enough to meet our needs but not enough to meet the greed of an SEZ.”

The SEZ is not the first to disrupt the lives of the people of Mangalore.  The Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) which was pushed by the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) in 1985 was a precursor to the current onslaught.

At the public hearing on the Mangalore SEZ organised in early-November 2009 at Bajpe village, as part of the nationwide people’s audits, several people narrated their experiences with the displacement, often forced, brought about by the earlier MRPL project and the current MSEZ.

Chandu, a dalit, who grew cashew, coconuts, vegetables, jackfruit and mango on his 0.5 acres of land, narrated how he had been pushed out during the rainy season without shelter and forced to live in a thatched hut for a year. He was later paid Rs 30,000 as compensation for the land and Rs 2,270 for his house. Only an oral assurance of a job per family was made without anything in writing. When he joined a protest demanding jobs, he was lathi-charged and jailed. Finally he got Rs 1.5 lakh in lieu of a job. At the rehabilitation site there is no firewood, grass or clean water. He has had no job for the past 16 years.

Dora D’Cunha was also not given a job because her only educational qualification was a secondary school leaving certificate. Though promised Rs 3 lakh in lieu of a job, she received only Rs 1.9 lakh. Dinesh Kulaal too was given no job as he was illiterate. “We never asked for money. We asked for jobs,” says Chandu.

According to a survey conducted by Vinay Kumar, Vidya Dinker and Dilip Vas, members of the Karavali Karnataka Janaabhivriddhi Vedike (KKJV), oil spills from MRPL have polluted the surrounding land and water. It has contaminated the drinking water source of Ryan D’Souza’s family. Gracie D’Souza’s cows have had miscarriages after drinking the water and her arecanut yields have reduced. Thomas D’Souza’s two-acre paddy fields can no longer be cultivated. His wife Jacintha developed rashes on her feet after stepping into the water-logged fields. Residents of Surinje village bemoan the reduction in fish yields from the stream.

MRPL’s only response has been to pump the contaminated water out without addressing the root cause of the discharge. The promised supply of clean water to those affected has not materialised. MRPL’s transgressions have cost the community crores of rupees of damage which are not accounted for in the company’s balance sheet. The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has taken no action against this violation of its own environmental clearance conditions. And yet, MRPL has won environmental awards! Now, MRPL is the principal promoter of the Mangalore SEZ.

The manner in which the state treats those it callously displaces for its lofty ‘public purpose’ is well illustrated in the case of Gregory Patrao. Patrao’s family has lost land over the decades to the Konkan Railway, Nagarjuna Steel Plant Project, MRPL and now again for the proposed MSEZ. A balance amount of Rs 1,10,000 is still due from MRPL to Patrao’s family. He has been staunchly resisting the forcible land acquisition for the MSEZ. The land acquisition rate fixed in 2004 was being offered in 2008. Patrao, who was a vice-president of the local gram panchayat, says that while the Land Acquisition Act requires individual notices to be served to land-holders, the notices were dumped by the sack-full in the gram panchayat office. Moreover, many objections by land-owners were recorded as consent.

In a memorandum to the then chief minister of Karnataka, H D Kumaraswamy, in 2007, the Krishi Bhoomi Samrakshana Samiti narrated how occupants of four villages had passed resolutions in their grama sabhas opposing land acquisition, and the then MP of Udipi, Manorama Madhwaraj had also written to the prime minister requesting that the land acquisition by KIADB for the MRPL be stopped. But efforts to acquire lands forcibly had continued.

Meetings that were called to fix the price of the land were conducted by an advisory committee made up of those whose lands were not at all affected.  There were no small and marginal farmers on this committee. An amount of Rs 5 lakh per acre was fixed, even though recent sale documents were produced that showed the going market rate to be Rs 15 lakh per acre. The presiding officials claimed that these documents were not genuine.

The amount was whimsically raised to Rs 8 lakh per acre along with the stipulation that land would be acquired whether the owners agreed to it or not. This despite the fact that several circulars were issued by the Centre to the Secretary, Industries & Commerce of Karnataka, that there should be no forcible acquisitions and that dry and not wet lands should be acquired.

Corruption played its part in defrauding the people. Valueless lands were given high prices while low prices were fixed for valuable land, depending on how much was paid to the officials – some lands were valued at zero if the officials were not paid off. While the villagers became poorer, officials became richer. Those who had lost 10 acres could not even buy one acre with the compensation. The articulate Gregory Patrao asks pertinently, “Are projects for people, or people for projects?”

Hiriyappa Gowda, of the Kudubi tribe, with his sun-baked skin, cloudy eyes and gnarled hands, used to work at night on his ancestral land to grow rice, horse-gram and vegetables, and as a wage labourer on someone else’s farm by day so that he could earn enough to educate his children. But one night the government machinery dumped mud on the vegetables grown in his field, levelled it, and forcibly acquired it.

MSEZ claims he has been paid compensation, but Hiriyappa Gowda says that officials paid up his loan at the bank without his knowledge — in lieu of compensation — by making him sign some papers unknowingly. He still has documents proving that he was given land under land reforms, which cannot be alienated.

The district collector closed an inquiry into his case on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to prove that he did not take the compensation money.

Lily Misquith’s land, too, was levelled without any prior notice. Shyamala says her blind father-in-law, head of a family of seven that survives on farming, was fetched by officials one day and his thumb-print taken on documents alienating a portion of their land which had a well. The remaining land now has no water source. Monthin D’Souza cannot get a loan from the bank for carrying on agriculture because his land has been notified for acquisition.

Jayanth Bhangi was offered inducements not to protest while Purushottam Poojary was threatened for mobilising people for the protest. He was told not to protest about the barren land allotted to him because he is a government employee. Another farmer who objected was beaten up and had to spend two days in a hospital. Jerome Albuquerque was peremptorily told by officials: “First vacate, we will provide rehabilitation later.”

K T Ravindran, a jury member at the public audit at Bajpem, points out that the new Master Plan of Mangalore shows many houses erased and made non-existent. Many lands that are wet are shown as dry.

Koragu Gowda who testified at the hearing says, “I’d have been happy if the officials had said ‘sorry’ for whatever they inflicted on us, but they were not even sorry.” Dinesh Kumar rues, “Elected representatives say, ‘It is a closed chapter, let us not discuss it’. Why should we elect them if they are not willing to discuss our problems?”

Losing land is much more than a question of displacement. “We are losing our livelihood, roots, way of life, traditions, and culture,” says Gregory Patrao. Moti D’Souza says, “People of different faiths and castes live together here peacefully. Please allow us to continue to live like that.”

“SEZs are an assault on agriculture and farmers, the salt of the earth and backbone of the economy of the country,” says Prof Trilochan Shastri, a jury member.

What can one say about a state that violates its own laws and procedures with nonchalance; fudges its own revenue records and masterplans to cheat its own people; hides realities behind false socio-economic surveys and EIAs (environment impact assessments); colludes with the greedy rich to defraud the helpless poor of their meagre assets; acquires their land without so much as a by-your-leave, deprives them of the fruits of their hard labour by dumping mud on the food crops they have grown; goes back on its own promises to them to provide jobs and compensation, thinks nothing of de-housing people without providing them alternative shelter, threatens them with dire consequences when they complain against its misdoings; beats them up and imprisons them when they protest against injustice meted out to them?

If an ordinary citizen had committed all these offences, he would have been jailed immediately with a dozen cases under various sections of the IPC filed against him. But there are no jails to which one can send an errant state. The insolence, arrogance, contempt and violence with which the state treats its own people is incomprehensible.


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