Goanet News Service
2008-01-14 20:43:07 UTC
Panaji: Goa's New Year's Eve announcement scrapping all its SEZs may have
come as a shock to the nation, making it the first state government to take
But in the region itself, where protests had been escalating for past
months, the writing had been on the wall for some time. With the Opposition
BJP and smaller regional parties threatening violence and preparing to heat
things up for the Congress government, the administration clearly had its
back to the wall.
Despite earlier differences, the party had to quickly read the script -
choose between allowing things to ignite to the Opposition's benefit, to
defend a decision taken by a small group of ministers within the party in
mid-2006 or bow to public demand.
Though people from the region often sigh at the state's unstable
governments, ironically instability in politics gave the anti-SEZ movements
a chance of success. Goa's anti-SEZ agitation began primarily because of
intra-party rivalries and escalated as the Opposition attempts to dislodge
government. Among the first persons to challenge the land allotments quietly
made to five SEZs in the Verna industrial estate, was Churchill Alemao, then
Congress MP, nursing grievances against his party and personal gripes
against a few of the MLAs and ministers who were in office when the
decisions were taken.
Though ignited by intra-party and Opposition rivalries, anti-SEZ sentiments
flared for primarily seven reasons:
1. The land allotments were huge areas, totalling over 1,000 hectres of land
acquired by government from ancient agrarian village collectives called
communidades. Goa is a mere 3,000 square km. When the allotments became
public, it shocked the state.
2. As many as 15 to 18 applications had been greenflagged by the state's
industries' department without the knowledge of local populations and minus
feasibility studies. They were seen as a top driven ventures - a few
corporates pushing plans with corruptible local politicians providing access
to land for a consideration.
3. End users of as many as 7 IT SEZs remained uncertain, while the
multi-purpose SEZs openly announced plans for Inorbit malls, Shoppers' Stop
and other malls.
4. The allotments were made to SEZ developers, and not direct to the
companies themselves, creating the case for a land grab in a situation where
land is a white hot commodity, attracting global and big city buyers in the
droves, and creating a near-siege mentality amongst locals.
Goa's Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) was unable to explain why it
leased out an entire phase of its Verna Industrial Estate to five
companies - two each to the Ashok Piramal and K. Raheja group. The SEZ
Virodhi Manch has filed an FIR on land allotments made here, calling into
question the lease rents charged as well.
6. More importantly, Goans saw themselves as being potentially marginalised
by 4 lakh employment promised across the 15 SEZs.
7. That the region's political stewards were willing to give over huge areas
to autonomously-controlled SEZs outside the jurisdiction of the state
government, created a serious erosion of faith.
Within the Cabinet, SEZ backers blame the BJP, the Opposition and the party
rivals for fuelling agitations as part of a combative free for all that has
emerged from hung Assembly results of the June 2007 election - including one
aborted bid to topple the Digamber Kamat government in August 2007. Citizens
though view the New Year announcement as a second victory of "people-power".
Similar pre-election protests in January 2007 halted a degreening Regional
Plan 2011 in its tracks. Accelerated development of above average 12 per
cent growth rates have, if anything, worried middle class Goans, says Goa
Hithrakhan Samiti spokesman Prashant Naik. "In the past 10 years, the influx
of in migrants has been huge - to fill jobs in industrial estates, pharma
industries, construction, tourism. In a few years Goa will be the only state
where locals have been reduced to a minority and people have realised that,"
said Naik. Of its small 14.5 lakh population, 5 lakh are recent migrants, he
said, making it a 35:65 per cent migrant-local mix.
People here are openly sceptical of the employment generation argument. "It
is a fact that entrepreneurs find it risky to employ local Goans. They
prefer unorganised, insecure workforce from outside the state," says trade
union leader Cyril Fernandes. "There should be an audit on how much Goa has
benefited from the 20 industrial estates set up by the government with an
accumulated investment of Rs 2,020 crores," says Fernandes.
Anger that tracts of land are being acquired from village agrarian
collectives called communidades to hand over to industry spilled over during
the SEZ agitation. Meditab Specialities - the proposed pharma SEZ that
arguably had the most serious industrial plan of all the Goa SEZs - got
caught in the agitation. But its site on a hilltop surrounded by lush
valleys of pineapple, betel nut and rice plantations - saw villagers oppose
a previous Nylon 6,6 proposed factory there.
Chief minister Kamat has meanwhile earned a grudging respect for his
decision, but faces a precarious situation within the Cabinet.
For the moment, the state government intends taking a step at a time in
dealing with legal fallouts of three notified SEZs - Meditab Specialities,
K. Raheja and Peninsula Pharma - the latter notified even as the agitation
was in full spate. The former two has begun onsite work, before halted by
the protests, though the amount invested on site is in dispute. (ENDS)