Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Economic Spaces, Displacement and Right to Life

Ishita Dey

Studies on SEZ have focused on the social conflict, discourses of development paradigm but rarely have tried to understand the recent resistance movements against SEZ in Nandigram in Midnapur District of West Bengal in the context of de- peasantisation and re- industrialisation. The age-old conflict of modernization through industrialisation has been debated widely across social science. While studies have managed to capture the dilemma of development discourse; there has been little emphasis on the how under the various schemes of urbanization fails to address the social tensions that have emerged and continues to emerge in case of land acquisition in West Bengal. These “modernization” processes have contributed to the shifting patterns of global labour but failed to address how female labour fails to capture the attention of policy makers in the innumerable rehabilitation policies that the Indian state has framed.

The fact sheet on SEZs in states that of the total land in India which is about 2973190 sq km; 54.5% (1620388 sq km) land mass could be used for agricultural purpose. The quantification of landmass available for agricultural activities leaves no room for the people who will be displaced. The new “technology of governmentality through its policy exercise has created an avenue of Resettlement and rehabilitation policy 2007 where it has been suggested that it is important to “manufacture consent” for development. The ways and tools of manufacturing consent have taken violent forms in the recent times.

The notion of SEZ needs to be contextualised within the broader understanding of the global economic restructuring of the world in general and post liberalization of the Indian economy in particular. While governance and policy exercises since independence is inclined towards industrialization; recent policy exercises is an attempt to re- industrialise to facilitate “transnational production networks” through cooption and manufacturing of consent among the agrarian workforce to create new segregated economic spaces which will be autonomous self sufficient not only in its “economic sense” but also in its civic and political sense. The legal provisions of the SEZs as some argue is a way to create “sovereign city states” ruled by corporates. It is against this background that we need to understand that the process of selective “governance” mechanisms has created and produced “social conflict” and often a never-ending one between the people and state has been the case in Nandigram.In the case of Nandigram, though the government has constantly assured the local population that it will not acquire land, the place has been transformed into a violent site of contestation between the CPI (M) supporters and the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee. The task of reclaiming territorial authority on certain areas has produced social tensions that are never ending. The horrific images of neo- colonial ways of land grabbing the country witnessed on March 14 2008 reflect the contradictory ways of “modern governance”.

While on one side, the new governance mechanisms are bound to create quasi-sovereign city-states with its own governance strategies, these zones will also be responsible for changing landscapes which will affect the livelihood of people and eco diversity of the area. As some argue the SEZ will pave the way of privation of governance with the Development Commissioner, three officers of the Central government and two representatives of the private development. The rationale of such a governing body within an “electoral democratic space” needs special attention. Any economic activity within the jurisdiction of the SEZ will be exempted from tax; under the garb of “public utility services”; while a similar infrastructure will be regulated through the laws of the electoral democracy in a different topographical context. These divisive measures will re-produce satellite towns which will be in constant conflict with the already existing juridical spaces of satellite – periphery of the city.

While SEZs on one hand is paving way for building alternative forms of governance the very selective methods it is deploying is reminiscent of a welfare politics of the state that is bound to create a divisive “politics of citizenship”. The state through its discriminatory measures is creating “citizens of exception” and the lives of the people are being promised to be safeguarded through a single dictum of National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy 2007. India has a long drawn history of policy exercises as one of the modes of governance to combat the claim making processes that the displaced have long demanded. As we all know “policies” suffer from the limitation of going unchallenged in any court of law. Thus the efficacy of such policy exercises is farcical to some extent.

Secondly, with the number of SEZ on the rise we need to give legal recognition to the Internally displaced person. Our experiences with Indian modernity, be it the Bhakra Nangal Project, Narmada or even the SEZ resistance movements have been responsible and continues to be responsible for creating rising figures internally displaced persons. When one tries to delineate “justification of displacement” as Peter Penz in his essay “Development, Displacement and international Ethics” points out, displacement is seen as inevitable and it is there the dialectical nature of displacement and development regarding its ethical character gets far more explicit. The three perspectives are public- interest perspective, self -determination perspective which treats freedom and choice as central and equal-sharing perspective which sees development as reducing inequalities. Self -determination perspective and equal-sharing perspective treats the rights of individual and community as central and it is this prioritization that creates a unique approach to development which will minimize displacement and provide adequate resettlement and rehabilitation to those displaced.

Those displaced due to construction of Bhakra Nangal dam have been forced to resettle in areas where they do not enjoy basic drinking water facility. Bhakra is one of the many cases in a country which has been witness to many a policy exercises of resettlement and rehabilitation. The recent NRP 2007 which primarily addresses the issue of development induced displacement speaks of people’s involvement in the R&R process post land acquisition and not when the land is been acquired which reflects the accountability of the state. It is only when the state will be accountable towards its citizens can we talk of the “moral responsibility” of the foreign business houses as Penz proposes. In case of resistance movements against the recent move to acquire land for SEZ in Bengal, Maharashtra and Orissa one of the primary concerns of the protesters was the question of alternative livelihood, home and land. In case of mining projects it is the tribals who are the worst affected. Kudremukh Mining project made it to the news when the Government decided to extend the lease to KIOCL despite the repeated protests by the environmental groups and locals. The tribals are reportedly being killed under the garb of the Naxalites. These instances are some food for thought to reflect on whether or not it is ethical to displace people for reasons of development. Most of the cases of recently proposed land acquisitions in Orissa be it by POSCO or Vedanta the nation- state to attract FDI has chosen to take sides of the foreign actors. Under such conditions one is quite skeptical regarding the “cosmopolitan approach” as it is finally through the “language of rights” that one can “empower the local/ host communities” to redefine their nature of “hospitality and shelter” which opens up another dimension as far as the “ethics” of moral responsibility is concerned. The “ethics” of “moral responsibility” is best put into practice when the concerns of those displaced are seen within the purview of the “language of rights” or “right to life” rather than as a notion of “moral responsibility” without any legal binding.

What we legally owe to those affected should be decided by the “language of rights” as our experience with the past and the resistance movements against proposed land acquisitions for development in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have shown.

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