Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Nandigram near Mumbai:Locals against SEZ

Agnes Bandu has not heard of Nandigram. But this parishioner from Uttan, a sleepy village some 40km from Mumbai, knows “poor people and farmers across the country are opposing SEZs”.

“We feel the same anguish. After all, the land we have cultivated for generations cannot be compensated by any kind of rehabilitation package. It is like taking a child away from its mother and being paid in kind,” the 55-year-old said.

Agnes and over a 100,000 residents of the Gorai-Uttan belt near Mumbai face the threat of being uprooted from their homes if the Maharashtra government proceeds with a proposed SEZ in the area.

“The state government is displacing us from the land of our ancestors without any rehabilitation plans. We will not allow this state-sponsored land-grabbing,” said Lourdes D’Souza, secretary of the Dharavi Beth Bachao Samiti spearheading the resistance movement.

The Gorai-Manori-Uttan belt is also called Dharavi islands and has virgin beaches. Its biggest tourist attraction has been Esselworld, the entertainment and water park promoted by the Essel Group.

The state government plans to develop an SEZ in the area, spanning 5,740 hectares and covering 10 villages. An entertainment and gaming zone that will be “Disneyland, Hollywood and Las Vegas rolled into one” is likely to come up.

The save-Dharavi samiti has, however, found out through a right to information application that only 60 per cent of the land belongs to the government.

“Of the 60 per cent, 40 per cent is mangrove, which must be protected according to the government’s environment guidelines and coastal regulatory zone laws. They are flouting their own laws,” D’Souza said.

The Essel Group owns some of the land around Gorai, of which 700 acres was gifted by then revenue minister Narayan Rane in 1996. Local groups have challenged the transfer in the high court.

The first set of approvals for the SEZ has already come from the commerce ministry. The SEZ is expected to displace over 1.25 lakh people, most of whom are Catholics or tribals.

“The first phase of the project includes a 1,000-hectare multi-product SEZ. Later phases are likely to extend to other areas, depriving people of their ancestral land,” D’Souza said.

Most people on the Dharavi islands are fishermen or farmers. Some work in salt pans.

“This is the land of our forefathers. The government is claiming the land as its own and asking us to go. They want to set up an entertainment zone for rich people on our fertile lands. They want to take away the beachfronts from the fishermen to build resorts for moneyed people. We will fight for this land with the last drop of our blood,” said Dominic DeMello, a farmer.

But DeMello and others, including the fishermen of Manori village, do not have any land deeds. “They are settlers or local tribals who have been cultivating it for centuries,” D’Souza said.

Vijaykumar Agarwal, the state additional secretary, revenue and forests, however, brushed away the son-of-the-soil claim. “Yes, they have been settlers for centuries, but in effect it is government land and the government can do what it wishes with it.”

State tourism and culture secretary Bhushan Gagrani said the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation in partnership with Pan India Paryatan Ltd would set up the entertainment zone.

“Vested interests are coming in the way of development. We propose to make this an eco-tourism site that will benefit the local people as well,” said Nilesh Mistry, senior vice-president, corporate affairs, Pan India Paryatan.

The representatives of the Catholic Christian Secular Forum, Gorai Machchimar Samiti and the Machchimar Sahakari Sanstha who are involved in the campaign said their struggle would be a “fight to the finish”.

“This is a fight of the poor versus the wealthy and powerful,” said Joseph Dias, the general secretary of the Catholic Christian Secular Forum.

Source: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1071231/jsp/nation/story_8727631.jsp



Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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