‘Property and its acquisition break social bonds and drain the life sap of the community. The unscrupulousness involved plays havoc world over and generates a force that can coax or coerce peoples to deeds of injustice and of wholesale horror.’ Rabindra Nath Tagore, in The Robbery of the Soil (1922)
Special Economoic Zones in the two eastern Indian states, namely West Bengal and Orissa, seem to have created more controversy than clarity over the process of development being pursued by the respective state governments. Interestingly, none in the ruling elites of the two states are avowedly reconciled with the concept of SEZ and prepared to take the morale responsibility of implementing SEZs, though in practice they appeared to be ready to do everything to take advantage of the controversial SEZ Act for the sake of industrial development in their respective states. While the leaders of the ruling Left Front in West Bengal, including the CPI (M), condemned SEZ with the apprehension that ‘it would amount to re-establishment of the zamindari system after 60 years of independence’, the General Secretary of the ruling BJD party of Orissa termed SEZ as a ‘step towards neo-colonization, since SEZ would be deemed as foreign territory’. Hence, the avowed ideological standings of the ruling elites of the two states vis-à-vis SEZ seem to be diametrically opposite to the position of the state governments run by the same parties. This paradoxical situation has become more complicated with the opposition the SEZ projects faced from different quarters of the people, particularly from those to be affected by the projects. Here the situation poses another paradox where the would-be project affected people (PAPs) are not much aware of the implication of SEZ, and opposing the projects not because those are SEZs, but because they are going to dispossess them of their agricultural land that provide them livelihood along with their hearth and home in some cases.
In addition to these common paradoxes regarding the policy and politics of SEZ in the two states, we can find many more commonness in the attitudes of the two governments and the responses of the people in the two states involved in the SEZ imbroglio that need closer attention and explanations. Before going into a comparative study between the respective roles of different actors of the two states, concerned and involved in the SEZ imbroglio, I would first present the two case studies for the two states separately so as to develop a comprehensive understanding of the state of affairs in the respective states regarding SEZ. Then we would go into the dynamics of the two resistance movements, one of which had taken place in Nandigram in West Bengal and the other is still brewing in the proposed project area for the POSCO SEZ in Jagatsingpur district of Orissa. Then a comparative between the two movements would be taken up
The procedure of study
First of all I prepared a list of persons, both at the government level and outside of both the states, to whom we should try to talk to gather information and documents to understand the policy and politics of the respective states. The list contained persons concerned with SEZ policy making to people involved in the movements against SEZ at the ground level. In addition there were persons from the academics, intellectuals, artists and activists of different categories, including political leaders of different parties involved in the controversy over SEZ. While doing so I got the taste of the attitudes of the bureaucracy of the two states in an altogether different way. While the West Bengal bureaucracy evaded all my efforts to meet them and collect information about the state policy on SEZ, the Orissa bureaucracy has been candid enough to grant me interviews and provide information and documents regarding the SEZ policy of the government. Anyhow, I could collect possibly all the documents and orders of the West Bengal government regarding SEZ from the website and from published literatures.
Then I proceeded for the interviews of the concerned persons as exhaustively as possible. We also visited the two areas of the two states where people have been known for their opposition to SEZ projects proposed there, namely Nandigram in West Bengal and the three gram panchayats near Paradeep in Orissa where the POSCO project has been planned. Talking to different persons of the two areas provides an understanding of the dynamics of resistance in those areas.
In the course of the study, I also tried to collect as much as possible local literatures on SEZ in general and the controversial projects in particular. Study of those literatures acquainted me with different views expressed by the authors along with the information available in them. I also collected the statistical data books of the two states primarily from the Bureaus of Applied Economic and Statistics of the respective governments to get some basic data on the socio-economic conditions of the two states, in the context of which we would proceed to examine the SEZ controversy.