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SEZ: farmers plan satyagraha

VOICING PROTEST: Anti-SEZ sentiments mark the commemoration of Chirner satyagraha at Chirner village in Raigad district of Maharashtra on Monday. Photo: Meena Menon

VOICING PROTEST: Anti-SEZ sentiments mark the commemoration of Chirner satyagraha at Chirner village in Raigad district of Maharashtra on Monday. Photo: Meena Menon  

Meena Menon

Over 10,000 hectares in 45 villages to be acquired for the project

Chirner village (Raigad district): Every year on September 25, the people of Chirner and surrounding areas remember the eight martyrs killed on that day in 1930, in what has become famous as the "Chirner Jungle Satyagraha."

A memorial with bronze casts of the eight men, inaugurated last year, is now a hallowed spot. This year, the function was marked by vows of a satyagraha this time against the Reliance group's move to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) in the region.

Maharashtra has 48 of the 220 SEZs approved by the Union Government.

In the wake of the opposition, the State Government says that it wants to strike a balance between farmers' interests and industrial development.

However, land acquisition proceedings are on; already, one of the three officers for the project has started hearing objections from the people in Pen taluka.

Resentment building

Resentment against the SEZ has been building up in Pen, Uran and Panvel talukas of Raigad district, where over 10,000 hectares in 45 villages will be acquired for the Reliance group's Mumbai Special Economic Zone project (earlier called Mahamumbai SEZ).

Notices have been sent to over one lakh landowners. People are filing objections to the notices sent under Section 4 (1) of the Land Acquisition Act. The notices say that the State intends to acquire their land for a "public purpose," and asks them to file their responses.

S.M. Kurtkoti, special land acquisition officer at Pen for 15 villages, says over 7,000 objections had come in. From the rest of the 30 villages in Uran and Pen and one village in Panvel taluka, nearly 9,000 objections had been recorded and more are coming in.

Hearings on

In some places, hearing on the objections had started and the process could take up to two months, Mr. Kurtkoti said.

Chirner will be the worst hit, with over 1,400 hectares to be acquired there.

"We sent the British packing, but they seem to have come back in the guise of Reliance," said Yeshwant Narangikar, who made a special placard for Martyrs Day, asking the company to go away.

The people first came to know about the project through a notice in a local paper on June 19. It said land was being acquired under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for a public project, namely the SEZ.

The company or the Government did not inform them or take them into confidence, said Santaji Gondhali. "What's wrong with our area. We have two crops, education, plenty of water. Since the city is close, we do get jobs too. Why does the Government want to take away all this?"

Committees formed

Each village has formed a farmers' action committee, and two umbrella organisations are spearheading the struggle.

Savita Subhash Thakur, a gram panchayat member from Chirner, said: "If we give up our land, what will we eat? They will not give us any jobs, and finally we will have to give up our homes. People are willing to sacrifice their lives to oppose this SEZ. Our land is productive and fertile, why should we give it up for a private company?"

Chirner sarpanch Bajirao Pardeshi said no one would give up his or her land for the SEZ. In fact, zilla parishad member Santosh Thakur, said opposing the SEZ would be a fitting tribute to the martyrs of the Chirner satyagraha.

MLA Vivek Patil, who belongs to the Peasants and Workers Party, said the State should not forcibly acquire land. His party would put its full force behind the fight.

Like most others, Hiraman Patil of Pirkon village thought "SEZ" was the name of a company that was going to set up a factory.

"People did come to survey our village, and they kept asking us various details. They probably worked for Reliance, but now we don't allow anyone to enter," he said.

Reliance's stand

"We are planning the Mumbai SEZ in such a way that it will be a world class city, which will ease the pressure on Mumbai. There is no question of displacement, and the Government will lease the land to us," a Reliance spokesperson told The Hindu .

The infrastructure would be upgraded in terms of road connectivity, education and health. About 25 lakh direct and indirect jobs would be generated over a period of 10 years, he claimed.

The State Government has formed a Cabinet sub-committee to deal with economic rehabilitation and compensation.

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