Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ranihati: Another special exploitation zone in the making

The West Bengal government plans to establish a special economic zone (SEZ) in the Ranihati area of Howrah district. Hindustan Foundries, belonging to the Hyderabad-based Ramoji International corporation is going to be the developer of this SEZ. The government plans to bring the small foundries located in the Dasnagar-Tikiapara area of Howrah into this “foundry park”. Recently, the union government has also given its go-ahead. As a result, around 1000 acres of agricultural land is being acquired for setting up this SEZ, a major part of which is fertile land bearing two crops per year. Various machinations of acquiring the land from the farmers are going on. Reportedly, already 50% of the land has already changed hands from the farmers.

The central government has been flip-flopping about the mechanism to be followed to acquire lands for SEZs. After the violence in Nandigram, the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) decided that companies setting up SEZs had to acquire land on their own directly from the farmers. Later, it decided that in order to get large tracts of contiguous land, the state governments can acquire land under “special” circumstances. With this confusion going on, land sharks are on a land grabbing spree at the sites of proposed SEZs. In the Ranihati area, the local people say that numerous land sharks and middlemen have jumped into the fray, which includes members of all political parties from the left to the right, who are out to make a profit from increasing land prices. The members of the ruling CPI(M) have been threatening the farmers with the example of Singur where a strong peasant movement has been unable to prevent the forcible acquisition of land for setting up the small car factory of the Tatas. There is a rudimentary save agricultural land committee in Ranihati, but it has not yet been successful in mobilizing the peasants on a large scale against land acquisition. However, there is considerable opposition to land acquisition in the area, mostly by small farmers who are dependent on the land for their livelihood. Although the government had organized a land acquisition camp, the farmers had not attended it. On the other hand, many absentee landlords, or landowners who feel that they are not getting the proper share of the crop from the sharecroppers or bargadars, think that it is profitable to sell off the land. The situation is similar to Singur. However, because of the prevailing confusion, misinformation and the participation of local members of all political parties in the land grab process, the farmers are not yet organized into a strong movement to oppose the acquisition of land for setting up the SEZ. They are not even aware of the polluting potential and the environmental impact of the foundry industry. Ranihati is an SEZ silently in the making, dispossessing peasants of their lands and livelihoods.

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