As a part of the second phase of liberalization the central government has announced a New Port Policy to exploit the vast coastline of the country more efficiently. In another development, on 31st March 2000, the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India announced the setting up of the country’s first Special Economic Zone (hereafter SEZ). For the votaries of Globalization - Liberalization - Privatization this is hailed as the ‘first milestone’ for initiating the second-generation economic reforms. As per the policy statement issued by the government, the SEZs to be set up in India will be conceived, planned, built and operated entirely by the private sector, thus making them probably the first such commercial ventures in the economic histories of the nations. To ensure them this pride these SEZs will be accorded the status of ‘foreign territories’.
At present the two places identified for sale to foreign ownership for development as SEZs are located at:
1. Poshitra village on the west coast of Gujarat in the Jamanagar district and
2. Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu.
Both these zones will be equipped with state of the art technologies of trade, commerce, industry and communication as well as the living environment that can compete with similar zones established at Shenzhen in China, Jabel Ali at Dubai, Cyber Jaya and Putra Jaya at Malaysia or the Free Ports of Singapore, Hong Kong and Mauritius. But there is a major difference between the existing international zones and those proposed in India. The proposed zones with 100% private ownership and control will provide a complete ‘hassle-free’ and ‘zero interference’ atmosphere in the absence of the ‘state’.
To ensure the complete private hold over the venture the government of India has promised to allow 100% Foreign Direct Investment in the area. Another sop offered is full freedom from the existing taxation, banking and labour laws of the country. A special fund of Rs 250 crores has been earmarked as seed capital to initiate the developmental work for the project proposal and advertising activities. Since Gujarat is one of the two states selected for the said venture, it will receive a part of this fund to initiate the work on lines as specified in the original policy.
Since the inception of a ‘kisan’ (peasant) Chief Minister in Gujarat, the state is suffering from a crisis of its image as a leader of a large-scale industrial development. The enterprising spirit of the state by now is routinely development equated with privately owned and capital intensive corporate industries even if it has led to the massively polluted ‘Golden Corridor’ (the stretch between Vapi and Vadodara on the broad gauge railway line and 50 kilometres on both the sides of the track) and swamping of displaced tribals and rural poor from surrounding and far hinterlands. In order not to be left out in the race of Liquified Petroleum Gas the Gujarat Government seems to be in a great hurry in ordering the clearing of projects which will exact a massive and irreversible impact on the social, economic, cultural and environmental fabric of the state. The announcement of declaring Poshitra as a SEZ and the haste with which the state has announced the setting up of a special task venture is a step further in intensifying its onslaught on the people and their right to life.
The Gujarat state has generously entrusted a global player called the Sea King Infrastructure Limited (SKIL), with the responsibility of taking the lead in this venture. SKIL in turn has established a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called Gujarat Poshitra Port Infrastructure Limited (GPPIL). Gujarat state has picked up equity shares in this SPV along with some other Multi National Corporations (MNC) such as Sumitomo Corp., Japan, New York Insurance, USA and others. The publicity material of the SPV provides an overview of the project proposal. According to the same, a Mega Port enclosing an estimated area of 50 square kilometres and costing about Rs. 5,600 crores will be developed at village Poshitra during Phase I of the project. In Phase II the SEZ will spread over 100 square kilometres with an estimated input of capital reaching around Rs 10,000 crores. In order to equip Poshitra Port with the latest state of the art technological infrastructure, to carry out the tasks of overseeing its town planning, construction activities, energy, water, communication and financial needs, the SPV will invite international leading giants in the respective fields to join the venture as partners.
To initiate and carry out the development work of Phase I, the zone developers will need to settle 15,000 workers with average family size of 4 persons, in all about 60,000 people. The projected estimate puts the total population which will be relocated from various parts of the globe in this zone is nearly 400,000 people by the year 2005. If it really materializes as visualized, this may establish a record of its own kind in the history of demographic changes of such a scale in a short span. A conservative estimate provided by the developers of the project and the state government puts the total land requirement of the entire area when the SEZ becomes operational in its full capacity is about 240 sq. kms. This includes the whole of Okhamandal Taluka and a major portion of the Kalyanpur Taluka in the Jamanagar district of the state. And it also means that the state government will acquire this entire land through the promulgation of a special act for the purpose on behalf of the GPPIL. Apart from the main village Poshitra, people in 15 villages from the Okhamandal and 10 villages from the Kalyanpur talukas have been notified for complete displacement through land acquisition for development. The state government has not only initiated the procedure by serving the acquisition notice and identifying the ownership of the land in all the villages but has also almost completed the entire procedure of acquirement in Poshitra. As per the census data of 1991 about 18,000 people will be displaced from their land in Phase I of the project. It is likely that all the 33 villages of the Okhamandal will be eventually consumed in the development of the said zone.
The people inhabiting this semi-arid coastal zone are the semi-nomadic agriculture-dependent community of Vaghers. Nearly the entire population depends upon agriculture and the literacy rate among them is extremely low. In the absence of any industrialization and an high frequency of drought has resulted in very little development which could bring change in the existing living pattern. The only two major industries established in the last 50 years were the ACC Cement factory and the Tata Salt factory The ACC shut down its operations some years ago leaving thousands unemployed and a vast tract of land completely useless due to cement debris. While the Tata factory has already started massive retrenchment, it has caused a massive destruction of local flora and fauna and the marine ecosystem by indiscriminately dumping hazardous chemicals in the sea area that has declared as the only Marine Natural Park in the country. A few kilometres drive through this area is enough to provide evidence of the irresponsible behaviour of commercial interests in their operations spanning only a few decades which have converted a large and fertile land mass into a grey and salty zone which will not be able to yield a blade of grass for centuries. Water, the most precious commodity of this desert-like region, with an average yearly rainfall not exceeding 40 cms, has become dearer as both the industries needed the water in a large quantity. Having better resources to control the sparse ground water sources they have been instrumental in increasing ground water salinity. The Okhamandal area is also famous for having one of the most sacred and known historical and pilgrimage site of Dwarika and many places connected with the same period of history and mythology. For the people of Okhamandal, the Vaghers, this is their world and for many no other world has ever existed outside the Okhamandal. Once they are displaced to make room for the new global community they will be declared foreigners in their own homeland that once was and they will need proper papers equivalent to passports even to enter there to pay homage to their ancestors.
In its zeal to create a New World under the control of the New World Order, the GPPIL is selling its project in the international market place as ‘Technology and Nature in Harmony’. Its own propaganda material available as a visual show on the net claims that, ‘The 200 kms. of virgin territory we have chosen has a coastline of painted blue waters and silver sand. It is our commitment to enhance this gift of nature through our investment into environment enhancing efforts’.
As one sails through the project profile of GPPIL, one understands more clearly what needs to be done to achieve ‘harmony’ and ‘environment enhancing efforts’ and how the Vaghers failed to achieve this for centuries. The punishment for this failure can only be to dislodge them and invite those who can do that. As per the wishful planning of GPPIL, the SEZ will contain the following basic Infrastructure at the end of Phase I:
Airport: International Class, 3.5 kms long runways with 737-class capability.
Helipads: 10 Helipads throughout the zone, option for personal helipads
Disaster: World-class prevention alert and management equipment
Apart from these facilities the zone will contain the latest technological services for communication, establishment of global business ventures, banking, tele-communicating, e-commerce, finance, recreation shopping, super premium colonies with private beaches and helipads, hotels, hospitals, parks, gardens, educational complexes, sports stadium, club houses, theatres, library, religious places, cemeteries and of course not to forget ‘low cost labour camps over an area of 54 Hectares’ in order to make its more than 20 business parks competitive in the ‘post WTO global marketplace’.
The list of favours that the state will extend to those who may oblige by coming in here are: duty free imports, self certification (No interference from government officers, customs or inspection), 100% FDI, no duties (like excise, sales tax, octroi etc.), 10 years income tax holiday likely to be extended to 15 years, free from export performance prescription that includes no scrap or waste norms, offshore banking.
And what is the price tag of those Vaghers? A mere peanuts — 350 crores out of 10,000 crores to be invested to ‘enhance the gift of nature’. This when it is calculated in per head terms is hardly Rs. 20,000 per capita. This is the price of their homeland, cultivating it for generations, their culture, history, pride and livelihood, an amount that will not buy them even two months of living in any urban slum that will be their next home. This is the price for a project that will reconvert them into modern nomads. Both the SPV and the government machinery is silent over any proposal regarding a rehabilitation package or any alternative settlement site.
Bravo to the Indian state and bravo to the trackers of the Express Way leading to ‘the post WTO marketplace’.
The efforts of the state machinery in misguiding the people by not providing them with any proper information, concealing the facts and refusing to entertain any legal and valid queries has already started generating confrontations between the two sides i.e. people and the state. The villages have already been served notices for land acquisition in the most clandestine manner. They have literally woken up one fine day to find legal notices slapped on their doors. Not knowing the implications of these notices and not being literate, many have not even bothered to pay any attention. But slowly the awakening has begun. A spontaneous people’s response to unite and resist the situation is emerging. Another history is beginning to unfold.
Poshitra Special Economic Zone Digital SEZ Presentation Essential Upgrade for Your Business.
Educational material Prepared by UNNATI, Ahmedabad, Okhamandal Khedut Gram Bachao Sankalan Samiti and Gram Vikas Trust, Dwarika.
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