Saturday, April 5, 2008

SEZ, Land and Dalits

The alienation and exploitation of tribal and Dalit populations continue in the face of modern India with the latest onslaught on their lives being brought about by the implementation of the SEZ act. There is an ensuing battle in our country to be fought on two fronts. The first enemy is the forces of global capital, which is penetrating our daily lives in every way possible. The second is off-course the more ‘traditional’ instance of caste based discrimination, oppression and exclusion. Neo colonization by means of global capital is taking over our nation, and its ally is clearly upper class elites who have hardly anything material to lose. Dalits have almost always been losers in gambles such as this. 12 out of 14 official deaths in Nandigram were Dalit deaths. All women who were gang raped were Dalit women. Even in cases of movemental operations, limelight and the political imperative seems to lie with upper caste leadership whose civil society operations hardly stall the forces of this colonization in some cases falling prey to them too easily.
According to official data till November 30, 2007 there are a total of 760 SEZs in operation or been approved. There are more awaiting approval. The central government expects over 300000 crores worth private investment in SEZs. A claim of about 3-4 million new jobs being created has been made by the likes of Minister Kamal Nath. Till date around 48,000 hectares of land has been acquired for the SEZ. Yet again there is a tall claim made by the government of about Rs 43,133 crores investment already incurred and around 35,000 jobs being created out of them. Apart from discrepancies in the claim it is also a necessity to point out the fact that for around Rs. 1.24 crores investment in such projects there is 1 job being created. Also significant is the composition in terms of the nature of the industry that these projects are fostering. 65% of the 193 notified SEZs are for IT and IT enabled services; and 15% for pharmaceuticals, textiles and multi-product activities. Over half of the notified SEZs (55%) are to be found in states of South India; 22% in the West, 18% in the North, and 4% in the East. The specialists are definite beneficiaries of these SEZs and unskilled labor might not be that relevant to the nature of the capital-intensive industries being drawn up. The Arjun Sen committee set up by the P.M. himself submitted its report on July 7th, 2007. According to the reports, on January 2005, the total employment in the Indian economy was 457 millions, the unorganized sector accounting for 395 million or 86%. In the unorganized sector, agricultural employment was around 253 million, 142 million being in non-agricultural sector. Point number 7 of the report says,' over the decades while the percentage of the population below the poverty line has come down, in 2004-2005, 77% people, totaling 836 million, had an income less than twice the official poverty line or below Rs 20 per day per capita. These are the poor and vulnerable segment of the Indian population. About 79% of the unorganized workers, 88% of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes, 80% of the OBCs and 84% of the Muslims belong to this category of the poor and vulnerable. Contrary to the trend in the number of people below the official poverty line, the number of people in this segment has steadily increased over the years.' How the employment promises of the SEZ act brings into scope all these people in terms of numbers and qualitative job-profiles remains to be seen. The Arjun Sen Gupta committee has reported government's policy on SEZ, rehabilitation due to dams, urban planning by displacing millions of urban slum dwellers as ‘major areas of concern’. For ‘backward’ states (normally with high concentration of Dalits and tribals), the minimum land requirement has been eased to 200 hectares and 50 hectares respectively for multi-product and sector specific SEZs.
The Madhya Pradesh government has stated in the Supreme Court that there is no available land to be given to those displaced. Given the fact that Madhya Pradesh, has a fair amount of vacant land and still cannot allot any land for rehabilitation of the tribal, other states like Uttar-Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Orrissa and Rajasathan and West Bengal are going to find it extremely difficult to relocate any displaced population with most of the land belonging to upper caste landed elites in large chunks. Also, most jungle land to be taken has been the source of livelihood of tribal populations.
Over 1.31 crore people are landless in India. Habitation land is also a luxury for these sections that live on and till communal land or at the mercy of the other. The Uttar-Pradesh government recently passed a notification that all the Dalits who ‘own’ any communal land till May 13 2007 will have legal entitlement to that land. The issue is how many Dalits have possession of the village communal land? Such notifications are hollow palliatives for the grass root level Dalit.
Apart from the displacement and land acquisition, non-existence of the implementation of Land Ceiling Laws has always led to serious plight for Dalits. The biggest farmers and politicians of India have a lot of land, illegally held and almost impossible to acquire by the state. The state governments in conjunction misuse the Supreme Court’s orders with the rural power elite. Dalits and tribals- victims of India's racist caste structure have hardly any scope to claim land unless land ceiling act is implemented. Accessible land is concentrated in the hands of powerful farmer communities, who are politically very mobile and violent. It would be almost impossible to take the land from Jaats, Gujjars, Rajputs, Bhoomihars, Bramins, Kurmis, Reddys, Thewars, Marathas and Yadavas. Caste prejudices of the ruling groups became obvious in the Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar district where 1164 hectare of the ceiling land was not redistributed to Dalits but to immigrants Sikhs from Punjab who allegedly paid huge bribes to powerful bureaucrats and political leaders. The governments have hardly any power to seize chunks of land in Tarai region from the owners who have almost relegated the tribal to a state of bonded labor. Land in masses was acquired by NGOs, big CBOs as well as for Ashrams, Gowshalas (cowherd). India is one of the few countries where land can be had in the name of religious book. There is no ceiling on farmland, land for temples, mosques or Gurudwaras; The NGOs, social movements hardly mention such gross discrepancies. The upper caste leaders of these groups thus are almost inevitably disqualified to speak for Dalit land rights.
The government has promised ‘humane’ displacement and relief and rehabilitation. However, the historical record denies the validity of this claim: an estimated 40 million people (40% of which are Adivasis and 25% Dalits) have lost their land since 1950 to large development projects. At least 75% of them still await rehabilitation.
A new relief and rehabilitation policy has been tabled in Parliament recently. It promises a ‘Social Impact Assessment’ of development projects, which displace human populations involuntarily. It also promises ‘compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement ahead of displacement.’ These assurances encompass landless families who are to be trained to be ‘self-employed’ and/or given jobs in construction projects. The experience of Singur runs counter to this claim where the private enterprise to set up a car factory has clearly said that it needs specialized workers on its firm. Also, landed families losing land to development projects are to be allotted land elsewhere. There are also special R&R measures for displaced SC/ST groups. Yet again these are yet to be employed or even considered in any state policy as such. Additionally, these promised measures are almost paradoxical to the existent SEZ measures and which measures gain priority is really up to the government to decide.
Apart from all of this there are legal violations made in the course of SEZ policies which should have significant negative influence on the Dalit community:
•Relaxation/inapplicability of many labour laws (including under the Industrial
Disputes Act, Contract Labour Act, Factories Act, Minimum Wages Act, Trade Union Act).
•Violation of Panchayat Raj Act (1996) for local self-government.
•Violation of laws granting rights and control to Adivasi communities over their land.
It is also common knowledge that post reforms (after 1991) with the private sector taking over public enterprises; SC/ST employment has gone down in figures. With no laws of the Indian state being applicable to SEZs, there will obviously be no question of jobs being reserved in the SEZs for SC/ST candidates.

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