Something somewhere has gone wrong! Farmer’s interests to be safeguarded first. SEZs are now the buzzword that had created almost an earthquake of sorts! Everyone who is anyone in the government or outside in the corporate sector is pitiching for vast acres of land, prime agricultural land in most cases for what seems to be a still undebated case for creating so many SEZs!

What has caused genuine concern is the fact that there has been a flood of sorts in “grabbing” so many SEZs. All over the world there are only 400  SEZs and China has only 6, India has already crossed 200 approvals within a year, 48 of them in Maharashtra alone. Given the sort of controversies the SEZs has created and the involvement of companies like Reliance, there is reason to think that something somewhere has gone wrong.

Kuldip Nayar, the veteran journalist has raised genuine concerns on a range of issues like farmers prime agricultural land being taken away, in Haryana alone 35,000 prime lands has been acquired by Reliance. Given the track record of the Reliance, it is anybody’s guess how speedily the deal must have been done. He along with some NGOs had met Mr.Kamal  Nath, the author of this dream zones and the Minister just washed off his hands by saying he had written to the Chief Ministers. There is much to applaud and also deplore over the creation of so many SEZs.

Of course, there have been apologists like Veerappa Moily who is close to Sonia Gandhi, who had raised some genuine concerns. What Moily says about the ethos of these SEZs and the communities in their immediate proximity, the farmers, the poor, the artisans and the very age-old values that drove them to stay afloat in such a delicate balance of commonly shared beliefs and ways of lives, all these are very likely to be destroyed.

There are other concerns. There is every chance these SEZs would become great real estate ventures; the RBI had done the foolish thing by classifying it so. There are some experts (Manoj Pant, Professor, Centre for International Trade and Development, JNU) who says that the SEZs as it is being implemented is very faulty, from what he notes we can say it might even be termed a fraud.

First, nowhere in the world, with all talks about imitating China (there is no comparison with China which is a dictatorship and does things differently), that export zones needn’t be given so many concessions. Exports of goods and services have taken place from all industries, industrial clusters, without such zoning. India’s traditional exports, gems, jewellery, textiles, clothing, automobiles and parts and IT services have all developed naturally from Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Surat clusters. The government did nothing to promote them. They thrived competitively and IT is a best example. So, what is the point of creating such zones?

Export promotion, experts say, is basically reduced to promote transport and create speed and space in ports. The transport bottle necks and the port congestion are the two export constraints and these can be dealt with without this much noise and hoopla about SEZs. This should be the voice of sanity in the present too much politicisation of the issue. Over which so many partisan voices are heard.

As Moily has pointed out that out of the SEZs taking some shape or other, the major issues like the already reduced land for agriculture, to produce enough food to make the country food self sufficient, is threatened. One has cause for concern. No one is speaking out. Sharad Pawar is only talking about adequate compensation. This is a pity. While we applaud Kamal Nath, this time his enthusiasms for the SEZs seem misplaced. Time only must show!

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