Suddenly our business people and industrialists are turning their attention towards rural areas. Not for any real development of the deprived farming communities. But to explore the unexplored avenues of wealth generation for them and their companies. As in other cases the state dances to the tunes of business class and patronises their whimsical ideas. The crucial question is how far the proposed Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are going to mitigate the lives of rural folks? One of the immediate answers from the protagonists of SEZ is that it provides marketing facilities to the agricultural products and can connect international buyers directly to the villages. Agreed because it promises better returns to the ailing farm sector. But when the producing mechanism itself is killed for the construction of godowns and markets, from where would the agricultural goods come from? SEZ policy introduction by the government on 1st April in 2000 and the present enthusiasm to spread SEZs everywhere raises the doubt. If the website of SEZ is to be believed there will be Rs. 1000 billion investment and employment provision for half a million people through these special zones.
Rich and fertile farming lands are converted into real estates for the big industrialists. So far the union government has approved 181 SEZs around the country. Most of these are located in agriculturally rich areas. With drought and famine hitting the most parts of the country, only very few land area is available for essential food crops cultivation. If these lands are occupied for marketing facilities then there will be drastic drop in the food production in the coming years. Seeing the success of China for the past twenty five years in converting the SEZs into a multi billion dollar giving zones, India has started seriously thinking this idea for the last six years. Now the implementation process of this grand idea is in full swing. The tug of war between the ministry of finance and the Planning Commission on the one hand and the Ministry of Commerce on the other is going to play the spoilsport in this fancy idea too. MoF says that too many SEZs will create a loss of Rs. 90,000 crores to the state exchequer. Whereas the MoC believes that the SEZs will bring in Rs. 400 million in annual revenue. Every proposing state is facing tough opposition from the political and social fronts.
Political parties are singing different tunes. Internal differences are implicit in Congress over SEZs. BJP opposes SEZs in agricultural lands. CPI(M) supports this policy while pitching for higher compensation to the landowners and state taking the trouble of SEZ land regulation. The other Left parties oppose tooth and nail this method of development saying that it is against the workers rights and eating away of agricultural lands by big sharks.
The past experience shows that the landowners didn’t get enough compensation from the companies and government whenever their land was taken over for the “development” purpose. This time situation is different. They may be paid excess to the original land price due to the high stakes available in the SEZs in terms of attracting higher foreign investment. India first date with the Zones started with the establishment of Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in 1965 giving duty free capital goods importing and raw materials, fiscal concessions, quick banking and industrial clearances. Last five decades experience of EPZs is not that encouraging. Less than four percent of the country’s exports came from EPZs and it attracted only 17 percent of the total foreign investments. There is no remarkable employment generation and development of the surrounding areas. So an extreme caution must be exercised in pushing forward SEZs in the rural areas.
India needs an Italian born Sonia Gandhi to sensitize the people in the power corridors about the bad consequences of SEZs. After she expressed strong sentiments against the SEZs in the recent Chief Ministers conclave in Nanital, Congress ruled states are thinking twice in going madly in favour of making business with industrialists over rural lands. Now most of the political parties are blowing their trumpets against this scheme and trying to draw political mileage out of the poor farmers frustrations.
An analysis of the following tables will show that there is an increase in the malnutrition and decrease in food production in the country for the past few years. In this scenario, converting agricultural lands into real estates just for quick bucks will be dangerous for the future social situation. Hunger and rural deprivations will push the nation into severe crisis like the ones that are brewing in the Naxal affected areas. Then whatever amount of central package and international aid will be insufficient to ensure smooth sailing of the country.
Calorie Deprivation in India States
Percent consuming Calorie Gap (FGT-1) Calorie Severety (FGT-2) Child Mal-
States Below 2700 Cal/cu (Ref. 2200 Cal/p) (Ref. 2200 Cal/p) nutrition
1983 1999-00 1983 1999-00 1983 1999-00 (