Farmers Struggle against Land Grab in PUNE DISTRICT
In Pune district, the government has approved 54 SEZs for private sector industries such as Syntel International, Serum Institute, Mahindra Realty, Bharat Forge, City Parks, InfoTech Parks, Raheja Coroporation, Videocon and Xansa India. All SEZs are located around Pune, in areas like Pune Nashik National Highway, Pune-Bangalore National Highway, Pune Hyderabad National Highway and Pune Mumbai Highway. The MIDC has identified 7,500 hectares of agricultural land for procurement in the name of SEZ creation in Pune.
Opposition to SEZs has become apparent in many areas, including Karla near Lonavala, Khed- Rajgurunagar, Wagholi at Pune-Aurangabd highway and Karegaon near the Ranjangaon MIDC. It is particularly strong in the Khed taluka district of Pune, where farmers from Gulani, Wafgaon, Wakalwadi, Warude, Gadakwadi, Chaudharwadi, Chinchbaigaon, Jaulake Budruk, Jarewadi, Kanesar, Pur, Gosasi, Nimgaon, Retwadi, Jaulake Khurd, Dhore Bhamburwadi and Pabal face loss of their only source of livelihood from the creation of the Bharat Forge SEZ. These communities, primarily Maratha, OBC and adivasi, are chiefly engaged in agricultural activities. Their major crops are potato, onion, sorghum, jowar, rice, flowers and pulses. Many village youth have also initiated small-scale businesses like poultry, milk collection and pig raring.
Although these villages are near the Bhima River basin and surrounded by a small watershed, the government’s lack of investment in infrastructure has left local farmers dependent on unreliable tanker water. Instead of meeting demands for sustainable irrigation schemes to improve the conditions of local farmers, the government seeks to reduce the land of local citizens in order to create an SEZ.
One farmer from the village of Gulani explained why the local population opposes the Bharat Forge SEZ: “We have cultivated enough to nourish the entire country and this needs to be continued for future generations. Land is our Mother, self-reliance, self-esteem, our livelihood, our identity and way of life so the government must not snatch it.” Other farmers in Gulani furthered these claims by saying ‘we will die, but will not give a single bigha [half acre] land to the MIDC or SEZ’.
While seventeen villages in the Khed taluka district oppose land acquisition for the Bharat Forge SEZ, four villages in the region have acquiesced to the project and given up almost 3,000 hectares of barren land. Land owners in these villages were provided compensation of 17 lakh per hectare and an employment guarantee for one family member.
However, those who sold land have yet to develop alternate sources of livelihood and many spent their compensation on unsustainable purchases. Women were excluded from the compensation process.
Because of the experiences of their neighbours, most farmers from the Khed taluka district are wary of government compensation schemes and determined to keep control of their lands. They first learned about SEZ land acquisition in April and May 2006 during an MIDC survey. Villagers from Gulani demanded information about the project under the Right to Information Act, but the government refused to comply, claiming that they lacked access to complete information. Villagers forcibly stopped the survey work and refused to allow officials to take any land. The struggle over acquisition continues today.
After the initial confrontation between villagers and the MIDC, concerned citizens formed a Khed Taluka Purva Vibhag MIDC Virodhi Kruti Samiti (Anti-Land Acquisition Committee from East Khed-Wafgaon and Gulani Village) to cancel the Bharat Forge SEZ and end land acquisition for the project. The committee organized a one-day mass protest at the Rajgurunagar-Khed Tahsil office on 11 July 2006. More than four thousand people participated in the protest, submitting a memorandum demanding that the government cancel land acquisition and allow villagers to retain control of their land. In addition, protestors demanded government provision of drinking and irrigation water, support for agriculture- allied activities and support to small businesses.
Farmers from Khed taluka warned the government that the fight against SEZs would continue until the Bharat Forge project was cancelled. According to one Gulani villager, ‘we have faced displacement in the name of national interests like Chakan International Airport, [and] we will not tolerate further displacement.’
Rather than giving up land for SEZ development, villagers from the region seek improved infrastructure to participate in sustainable agricultural development. Many youth in the Khed block aspire to initiate their own agro business, such as floriculture, horticulture, dairy, poultry and vegetables. They have sought jobs in urban industrial companies but lack appropriate technical knowledge. These villagers claim that if the government provides adequate infrastructure, they can develop the region without SEZs and help provide food security for the nation.
The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation has reserved land from the four villages for industrial purposes and it was transferred to the Videocon SEZ project in Pune district. The government responded to the strong farmer opposition by canceling a large SEZ covering 5,000 acre of land in Wagholi village of the Haveli block had been earmarked by the MIDC in 2007 for several SEZs, including one for Videocon. In the four villages involved, about 3,000 acres of land was being used for two crops and irrigated by lift irrigation schemes, wells and bore wells. About 4,500 farmers were dependent on these lands, which produce wheat, millet, onion, sugarcane, seasonal vegetables and fruit.
Farmers, who formed a large part of the constituency of the Nationalist Congress Party, protested against the project. The farmers used their political bargaining power to get Mr. Sharad Pawar, Union Agriculture Minister to intervene and cancel the project. The farmers opposed the SEZ from the outset. They gathered at the District Collector’s office in April 2007 and attacked Videocon employees who visited Wagholi for measuring land the next month. The protest forced the government to stay the proposed SEZ in November 2007. Eventually, the government cancelled the Videocon SEZ in Wagholi and removed MIDC stamps from the land records of farmers. On August 25, 2009 Mr. Ashok Chavan, who had replaced Deshmukh as Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced the scrapping of the SEZ in Pune and said that the identified land would be returned to the farmers. Violent protests by the villagers and fear of losing a seat in the forthcoming Assembly elections that were due in October 2009 allowed this SEZ to be scrapped. Now, the district administration is withdrawing the stamps from land records. This struggle demonstrates the strength of the farmers struggle against big corporates and their eventual victory.