Reliance SEZ: Fate hangs on people's verdict

Note: Government's stated purpose of creating SEZs across India is “the promotion of exports”. Kamal Nath, Commerce and Industries Minister claims that exports will ultimately grow five times, GDP will rise 2% and that 30 lakh jobs will be generated by SEZs across India. It is also claimed by the government that SEZs will attract global manufacturing through foreign direct investment (FDI), enable transfer of modern technology and will also create incentives for infrastructure. The constitutional tenability of the SEZs remains questionable.

In “The Polyester Prince”, the banned biography of Dhirubhai Ambani, a senior lawyer said, view. 'Today the fact is that Ambani is bigger than government,' said the lawyer in all seriousness. 'He can make or break prime ministers. In the United States you can build up a supere corporation but the political system is still bigger than you. In India the system is weak. If the stock exchange dares to expose Ambani, he tells it: I will pull my company shares out and make you collapse. I am bigger than your exchange. If the newspapers criticise, he can point out they are dependent on his advertising and he has his journalists in every one of their departments. If the political parties take a stand against him, he has his men in every party who can pull down or embarrass the leaders. He is a threat to the system. Today he is undefeatable.'Is Reliance really more powerful than the nation-state?

Is it irrelevant to mention that Sonia Gandhi, United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress party president, landed in Moscow in a Bombardier jet belonging to the Reliance that raised many an eyebrows? She was on a four-day visit to Russia as a private guest of President Vladimir Putin.

Most recent illustration of Reliance's might is that when an RTI query on whether lifting of oil from Iraq by Reliance Petroleum was probed by Virender Dayal report on the Iraq Oil-for-Food scam. The UPA government said that the file is untraceable. The Prime Minister's Office, the External Affairs and Finance Ministries, in response to an RTI query whether lifting of oil from Iraq by Reliance Petroleum was probed by Dayal, have said they do not have possession of the report.

In separate submissions before the Central Information Commission (CIC), the MEA intimated that the report, prepared by Dayal after meeting UN officials who probed the agency's Oil-for-Food Programme, would be available with the PMO. The PMO said that the report was with the Department of Revenue under the Ministry of Finance, which too has disowned having it in its possession. Following this, the CIC summoned the Chief Public Information Officer of PMO, MEA and Department of Revenue with the complete copy of Dayal's report, if held by them and if not then explain where this can be accessed.

While, PMO Director Kamal Dayani submitted that only the notings in the matter were traced, but not the report, MEA Joint Secretary Pratap Singh said although the ministry issued the appointment order of Dayal, the report was never submitted there. Revenue Department official S G P Verghese "bashfully" accepted that he had asked the Enforcement Directorate about the report but neither confirmation nor denial came from their side. The ED had informed the Department of Revenue that it falls under the second schedule of the RTI Act, which gives it immunity from disclosing sensitive information. Even if an organisation was included in the second schedule, information pertaining to allegations of corruption and human rights violation is not excluded, the CIC observed.

Almost two years after the plea for information was filed by one Arun Agrawal, the information watchdog finally asked the ED whether the report and full file was available with it or not and to give written submissions as to why the disclosure should not be allowed.

Agrawal, a resident of Bangalore, had sought the entire file along with notings "relating to the appointment, scope of his brief or special envoy" Dayal to obtain papers relating to Volcker report and his report to the Ministry of Law and Justice after meeting UN officials. He had alleged that documents from Volcker report show that Reliance was a non contractual beneficiary for lifting five times more oil than that shown to have been lifted by Congress and Natwar Singh combined. Agrawal claimed that the government did not refer the three contracts (M/09/35, M/10/17 and M11/25) pertaining to Reliance Petroleum, but only referred the two contracts No. M10/57 of Congress Party and contract No. M09/54 of Natwar Singh to the enquiry authority.

"The plea of confidentiality by the government that protecting commercial interest of a corrupt corporate is to national interest cannot be accepted. If that plea is to be accepted then it should have protected the reputation of its foreign minister, which it rightly did not do," said Agrawal in his plea before the CIC.

The might of Reliance manifests itself in myriad ways. Will the villagers be able to outwit Reliance?

Gopal Krishna


Reliance SEZ: Fate hangs on people's verdict


PEN(RAIGAD): The sylvan-looking Pen town in Raigad district is famous
for the Ganesh idols it produces. On September 21 though, this modest
tehsil in the picteresque Konkan region will have another claim to
fame for not so divine reasons. A little more than 30,000 villagers
from 22 hamlets in the Pen tehsils will make known their choice for or
against a special economic zone (SEZ) promoted by RIL chairman Mukesh
Ambani and his close associate Anand Jain.

If a majority of these villagers say in writing that they don't want
to be a part of this multi-product SEZ, the state government will have
little choice other than striking off these 22 villages from the SEZ
map and in the process heralding in a new trend, which could
decelerate the progress of the SEZ bandwagon across the country. And
if the majority tilts towards the SEZ, the public hearing could end up
discrediting the lobby up against industrial projects across the
country. So September 21 could turn out to be the very significant
Sunday for the country.

The Mumbai SEZ

Anand Jain, is proposed to come up over 10000-hectares of land which
cover 45 villages in Raigad district. Of this, 22 villages in Pen
tehsil fall in the command area of the Hetawane dam and the public
hearing has been ordered to let villagers have their if they want the
SEZ or not. On the basis of written statements that will be filed by
around 30,000 villagers, the Raigad collector will make a report to
the state government. This report, along with a status report on the
Hetawane dam to be submitted by the irrigation department, will help
the government take a final call on inclusion or exclusion of these 22
villages. There, however, will not be any 'voting' on Sunday contrary
to some media reports.

At the center of the great hullabaloo fairly early in his career in
civil service, Raigad collector Nipun Vinayak, in his early thirties,
says he does not feel any pressure of the unprecedented moment. "I
don't anticipate any violence. But the district administration is
fully prepared to conduct the public hearing in a peaceful manner
tomorrow. It's not a referendum. It's only a public hearing of a novel
kind wherein the government would get hear what the people concerned
have to say," Mr Vinayak told ET at his sea-facing Alibaugh office.
"We have advertised the proforma of written statement in local
newspapers to create awareness. It has been designed in such a way
that villagers will have the room to express their views in general as
well as specific terms," Mr Vinayak said.

These 22 villages have 5925 villagers whose names figure on the 7/12
land ownership extracts as primary owners. But Mr Vinayak says the
government has served notices to all 30,057 villagers who have their
names on the 7/12 extracts. "If a family has five members and all of
them figure on the 7/12 extracts, all of them will have a say in the
process to make the hearing a broad exercise," Mr Vinayak said.

Irrespective of the government proforma, both pro and anti SEZ lobbies
are busy circulating their own versions of the document that has to be
filled up and submitted to the government. Whatever the text of this
document, the villagers will have to sign it in the presence of
government officials on Sunday.


Like the collector, Mahendra Patil is also looking at the entire
exercise with lot of excitement. The 25-year-old farmer in Tambadshet
village has sold his one-acre land to Mumbai SEZ Pvt Ltd for Rs 10
lakh compensation. "I support the hoagitation against the SEZ simply
because it could fetch me a higher compensation. The land that I have
sold off was fallow but it has got me Rs 10 lakh so far. If the
agitation forces the SEZ people to pay more, what's the harm in
getting even Rs 1 crore for this land," asks Mr Patil.

Mahalgaon farmer Suhakar Mhatre too wants the benefit of a higher
compensation which he feels the agitation could succeed in getting.
This 55-year-old farmer has sold off to acres to MSPL for Rs 20 lakh
and, quite interestingly, invested the money in buying 10 acres at
village Mangaon in a near-bye tehsil. "If I get more in compensaition,
why should I mind the SEZ coming up here?," asks the farmer who would
most likely continue working his farm in the other tehsil even if the
SEZ happgens.

But farmers like Mhatre and Patil could end up as losers if the
majority votes out the 22 villages from the SEZ area. The district
administration says all those sale agreements, which have been
executed between farmers and MSPL would stand cancelled if these 22
villlages are to be excluded from the SEZ area. These villages
constitute 2993 hectares of land and so far 1681 agreement to sale
have been entered into between villagers and MSPL. "These are all
agreements to sale and not final sale deed. They have been entered
into under an explicit contract that the land will be used for the
SEZ. If the SEZ does not come through, the land will be returned to
their original owners and the owners will have to return the
compensation they have got," said a land acquisition officer who did
not wish to be named.

Meanwhile, the Pen tehsil will look like a heavily guarded fortress on
Sunday with the district collectorate calling in additional police
force. Villagers in 22 villages will file their statements before the
district administration at 23 places designated by the government. Mr
Vinayak said the collectrorate will make a report to the government
after a week or so to the government on trhe basis of this exercise.
"The report will be a compilation of facts and public views. We can
also make some recommendations to the government. But the report in
itself will not be binding on the government. It will only help the
government take a final call and the government will provide an
opportunity to the promoters of SEZ to have their say," Mr Vinayak said.


20 Sep, 2008,
The Economic Times

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