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Farmers take to streets against SEZ in Raigad

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A BIG `NO': Opponents of the proposed Special Economic Zone stage a road blockade at Wadkhal in Raigad district of Maharashtra on Friday.
A BIG `NO': Opponents of the proposed Special Economic Zone stage a road blockade at Wadkhal in Raigad district of Maharashtra on Friday.

Meena Menon

Government will not come between company-farmer talks on land sale, says Maharashtra Chief Minister

  • Withdraw land acquisition notices: protesters
  • Reliance announces rehabilitation package

    Pen (Raigad district): Hundreds of farmers took to the streets on Friday opposing the Reliance-promoted Mahamumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and blocked the Mumbai-Goa highway and other roads near Pen in Raigad district in Maharashtra for over three hours.

    The Shiv Sena and the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) alliance recently won the majority of seats in the zilla parishad elections in Raigad district. Shouting "Chale Jao (go away) SEZ" slogans the protesters waved the saffron and red and white flags of their parties.

    Traffic diverted

    Led by veteran PWP leader N.D. Patil, the agitation began at 11 a.m. at Vashi Naka near Pen. The protesters walked three km to Wadkhal Naka on the Mumbai-Goa highway, about 80 km from Mumbai. Traffic was diverted at various places, according to the police, causing huge pile-ups along the way.

    The protest was part of a nationwide action against SEZs on the occasion of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Smriti Diwas. The main demands were that the SEZ Act should be withdrawn, and a national debate should be held on agriculture, land acquisition and development.

    The Government is acquiring land in 45 villages in Pen, Uran and Panvel talukas of Raigad district for the Mahamumbai SEZ promoted by Reliance.

    People have opposed the land acquisition but the District Collector issued an order that the farmers can sign a memorandum of understanding with the company. Reliance also announced a rehabilitation package offering Rs. 25 lakh per hectare.

    While Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has been saying that land acquisition notices can be withdrawn he has not made any administrative move to do so.

    Assurance in Council

    Replying to Jayant Patil from Raigad (PWP) in the Legislative Council on Friday, Mr. Deshmukh said the Government would not come between any discussion between the company and farmers on land acquisition. He said the farmers should get a good price or market rates for land and the Government supported the well-being of farmers.

    The rasta roko was called off around 2.30 p.m. after the protesters were told about Mr. Deshmukh's statement in the Upper House. However, the main demand, as articulated by Mr. Patil, was that the Government should withdraw the land acquisition notices issued to people in 45 villages, which fall in the Mahamumbai SEZ. He said the Government must not endorse this acquisition. "By taking to the streets the people have shown their displeasure and the Government has to acknowledge this," he said.

    "Where will we go?"

    Women from Borje village Mahila Mandal wore green and red saris as a mark of protest. Manjula Mhatre, president of the Mahila Mandal, said: "Where will we all go once we sell our land. Agriculture is our life."

    Durga Mhatre, a senior citizen, said: "Reliance must be thrown out of this area. What will we eat after selling our land to them?"

    Protesters deflated tyres of trucks and buses. The protest, which was peaceful, was watched by a large posse of policemen and senior officers. Some of those policemen on security duty stand to lose their land in the SEZ. One of them from Hashivre village has four acres in his family, which has opposed land acquisition.

    Dilip Patil from Kane village said there were over 70 policemen, including 12 inspectors from the village, where land was being acquired for the SEZ.

    Eye-opener

    Mr. Patil said the people had enough capacity to throw out Reliance on their own but the Government's support made things difficult. "What has happened in West Bengal is an eye-opener for all of us and the Government must desist from such actions," he added.

    The issue was not whether land was irrigated or not. Farmers survive on dry land crops and they could not afford to give up their land, whatever the price might be, he said.

    Bhagwan Zemse from Kane said no farmer wanted to sell land to Reliance. "We do not want to give up our land as there will be no options for us," he said, adding that the rehabilitation package offered by Reliance was "bogus and just a ruse to deceive villagers."

    "Scrap SEZ"

    Anant Patil, president of the committee of 24 villages in Pen taluka affected by the SEZ, said the zone should be scrapped at once. Right from the Prime Minister, many people were making statements that fertile land should not be acquired and the Government should stop acquiring land for SEZs, but none of these things was translating into policy. Why should farmers give land to a private company, he asked.

    He said that in Pen taluka there were people displaced by the Koyna dam, still without potable water. They were living in miserable conditions. This was the dismal track record of the Government in rehabilitation, he said.

    Over 70 SEZs

    Maharashtra has over 70 approved SEZs, the highest in the country. In Raigad district alone, eight are proposed. People protested at various other places in Raigad district too, apart from other parts of the State. On April 5, a morcha is planned in Mumbai to enforce the demand for scrapping of land acquisition notices.

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