Mundra SEZ: Reminding the Struggle of the Gandhian Era?

Mundra SEZ: Reminding the Struggle of the Gandhian Era?
Pravin Sheth

Mundra SEZ, one of the nation’s most ambitious SEZs with projected Rs. 50,000 crore investments in SEZ, port and power plants presents a case study of a dynamic private corporation pushing its development project, people’s struggle against ‘manipulative’ acquisition of land and the village commons, environmental conservation, role of the Supreme Court and the state government’s benign treatment of an influential corpo-magnate enjoying cozy space with the Chief Minister. And, finally, replaying a sort of dialogue between the advesaries, Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya and the dynamic industrialist Gautam Adani.Village Jharpara with a population of 14,000 and vibrant farmers and cattle grazers-mainly belonging to OBCs is the nerve centre of this struggle. Though still incipient in form, it may snowball into a protracted struggle with the entry of more public interest groups and throw up far-reaching concerns SEZs in Gujarat.

Mundra SEZ,established under the SEZ Act of 2005,is proposed to come up in Mundra taluka of Kutch in about 6,000 acres of land with a total investment of Rs.7,400 crore.

For over a decade, Adani group which is going ahead with its multi-purpose project of developing Mundra region has undergone the cycle of struggle of a section of the local communities against what they call the Group’s projects and then the resolution of conflict in contexts that generate apprehension of illegitimate deals between local leaders and the agents of the Corporate authorities. The present scenario, however, is pregnant with more significant features. It may also throw up far-reaching outcomes.

On the plea of the fishermen that the SEZ project would affect their traditional livelihood, and flora and fauna in the region, in the first week of July, the Supreme Court had directed the parties in the region to maintain status quo with regards to the activities taking place there. The Court also issued notice to the ministries of commerce and environment and forests, the Gujarat government and the Mundra Ports,SEZ and the Adani group.Adani group has moved the Court seeking vacation of the stay over the stalled work at its Rs.7,400 crore multi-product SEZ.The Adani counsels stated that all allegations against the SEZ were baseless. The company had not indulged in land grabbing but acquired the land strictly in accordance with law after public hearing and paying compensation and premium for rehabilitation.

The protest has emerged from within Gram Sabha, a local body comprising of all adult villagers, arguing that it was not called when the Sarpanch Dhanraj and the gram panchayat took decision to hand over the grazing land to the Adani corporation. The sarpanch has allegedly played a dubious role, first by opposing the land acquisition, and then, after becoming sarpanch obtained the concurrence of the gram panchayat to sell the grazing land. Despite the sarpanch’s effort to misguide the people the contending parties had reached a consensus, and thus to pre-empt the protest convention, more than 3000 villagers made it a point to leave their small ‘wadis’ to register their protest on 19th June. They gave voice to the way the gram sabha was called under the pressure of the villagers, but as he was accused of corrupt role, he left the meeting in a huff. Soon thereafter, the Sabha undid the resolution to give the land to the Adani group. On another related resolution, signatures of DDO and TDO were obtained.

Meanwhile, on the order of DDO, Sarpanch Dhanraj is suspended for ‘financial irregularities’ and an inquiry committee is appointed to probe into the role of the gram panchayat.Talks among villagers are around that some more than Rs.30 crore have greased the malafide deal through the sarpanch.

Last week, a significant event, unreported though, took place.Chunibhai Vaidya felt that as a Gandhian worker, he must try to meet with Gautam Adani.Gautambhai offered to come down to Gandhi Ashram premises where Chunibhai is living. The latter appreciated the billionaire’s ‘gentle gesture’ before this author. Both the adversary stalwarts exchanged their views in an ambience of mutual respect. But both differed on many points. For example—

–Adani stated that in the Jharpara village, there are less number of cattle and more gauchar(grazing) land is available.Vaidya quoted the TDO regarding the number of cattle population according to which it has rather a deficit of 720 acres of land.

–Adani argued that land in Mandvi and Mundra is not fertile, while it is generally known that these two talukas have the most fertile land in Kutch district.That is how, Jharpara village is so well-off because of its cultivation of ‘kharek’(dates) which is also exported.

–It was Dhanraj who initially was against sparing the local land in spite of the unwillingness of the villagers. But after he was elected sarpanch, Adani group built local roads, school etc. on his demand. Only after that, Dhanraj conceded to the sale of land, Adani argued.Vaidya wondered, if it was a sort of hidden form of corruption. Unconfirmed words making rounds is that Dhanraj’s hands were greased by crores of rupees.

Gautambhai also reminded Chunibhai that on the latter’s demand, he had withdrawn from filing a tender worth crores of rupees for construction work at Umbergaon port.Chunibhai appreciated that it was a graceful gesture on part of the industrial leader.

Both disagreed on the point of legality as well as legitimacy of notified status of SEZ land. There is no way to denotify a notified land.Vaidya feel that Jharpara land given is not properly registered or recorded owing to the people’s protest. Regarding Adani’s pleas that it can not be denotified, Vaidya stated that what happened to SEZs in Goa are a case in point.

Finally, Vaidya emphasized that at least,Adani may agree to let go the land of Jharpara.Adani disagreed saying that it may the set the precedent and other (twelve) villages will also then demand undoing of the acquisition of their land. Both agreed to disagree in an atmosphere of mutual cordiality—reminding, in a way, the ethos of negotiation between Gandhi and colonial rulers.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 families have signed up the form of an oath of participating in peaceful Satyagraha for saving the land of this village.Nageshwariben– a principled octogenarian and a former sarpanch of Jharpara is one of the leaders among these signatories.

It is in this context of calibrated face-off between powerful adversaries that the conflict over SEZ is on in an atmosphere of controversy and mutual respect of the chief players. It’s a golden opportunity for the state to intervene as an honest broker and help to bring about a peaceful resolution of conflict. The least expected of a just state is to ensure fair play for both the sides in developments regarding the state’s 51 SEZs and evince transparency of purpose and implementation. That means acquisition of land and such processes should not be manipulative, but consultative and participatory. And the public land does not become sort of equity for appreciation of land—purchased from the public land at a low price but sold at a high premium price.

An inclusive and equitable development implies participation of all classes of local people and distribution of benefits to all the players and partners equitably in proportion to their skill, labour and management talent—all carried out in the true spirit of justice and fair play.

This is where you would put a quote from someone mentioned in the content.Citation