November 14, 2007

Land Struggles Sour India Economic Zones

Controversy follows the violent deaths of 21 protesters who opposed the creation of a “special economic zone” in India’s West Bengal district, reports Agence France-Presse.

Activists say the deaths highlight the dangers of land seizures to create industrial areas that largely benefit multinational corporations.

Such conversions are common in nations such as China, where small fishing and farming villages are transformed into economic powerhouses.

The Indian villagers, from the district of Nandigram, oppose the local Marxist government’s plans to acquire 14,500 acres for an industrial park and petrochemical hub.

Nearly 150 special economic zones already exist in India, employing 41,000 people.

The government “hopes they will generate 25 billion dollars’ worth of exports in 2008-2009,” according to the wire service.

Most of the special economic zones have been established since 2005.

Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva called the acquisition of agricultural land for private companies “draconian, thoughtless and pro-corporate-capital,” according to the Indo-Asian News Service.

She said other countries, like the United States and Japan, had managed to grow without establishing special economic zones, and that promises to make farmers stakeholders in the new endeavor made them dependent on unstable markets rather than “stable lands.”

India’s Minister for Labor and Excise P.K. Gurudasan echoed Shiva’s concerns at a recent conference, saying the zones are given “too much” power, and that tax breaks to foreign corporations don’t benefit India, reports The Hindu.

“Special economic zones are nothing less than carving out a foreign territory within a sovereign nation,” he said. “This will result in extra-territorial powers calling the shots.”

Gurudasan also said the government ought to protect Indian workers from labor exploitation and guarantee that those who lose their lands are adequately compensated and assured of a job and a place to live.

An upbeat story in India’s Business Standard brushes aside all these concerns, arguing that the industrial zones provide welcome employment for local villagers.

The article claims that exported goods from special economic zones already account for six percent of India’s total exports.

In the coming year, such exports are expected to grow by more than 100 percent.

Sources:

“India dispatches troops to tackle land-grab protests”
Agence France-Presse, November 10, 2007

“Rehabilitate those displaced by Special Economic Zones, says Gurudasan”
The Hindu, November 5, 2007

“SEZ Act not justified, says eco activist”
Indo-Asian News Service, November 5, 2007

“SEZs defy critics, begin to deliver the goods”
Business Standard (India), October 14, 2007

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