Special Economic Zones (SEZs) (include map of SEZs)

Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are specialised zones of industries where the regular laws on tax, labour, and environment do not apply. The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act came into force in 2005. Since its implementation, over 700 SEZs are in different stages of approval throughout the country. The reasoning behind the Act was to invite multinational companies to set up units in India. The justification for using SEZs is for employment opportunities that would be generated by these companies, infrastructure development and just compensation.

What’s the problem with SEZs?

As the regular rule of law doesn’t apply in SEZs, the Central Government established SEZ authorities. This concentrates enormous power in the hands of an unaccountable, tiny administrative body, and leaves no space for the powers and functions of panchayats or urban wards to be carried out. The SEZ Act even subverts the sovereign functions of the State, e.g. by giving judicial powers to a designated court set up by the central government, for adjudication on civil disputes as also prosecution of a schedule of offences that has been left unspecified in the Act.

This rapid increase in SEZ approvals has meant large scale acquisition of land from private owners through the implementation of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, or similar state legislations. Prime agrarian land and commons are being acquired in the name of industry, causing serious concern, agitation and struggle in SEZ areas across the country.

The SEZ Act that was passed without any debate or discussion in civil society on the socio economic impacts, or the constitutional rights of the people who would be affected by losing land and livelihood, has turned out to be one of the worst instruments for land grab, raising furore and resistance across the country from the farmers who realised they could no longer till their own lands; landless labourers who were not only rendered jobless but also denied compensation, and marginalised sections like adivasis and dalits who found they had no say in this state sponsored impoverishment.

Reaction from people’s movements

There was a collective consensus to bring together the experiences emerging from people’s struggles in SEZ areas throughout the country through a series of People’s Audits of SEZs. The need to build a national synthesis of emergent issues and decisively challenge the SEZ Act was the central motive for designing this process.

The People’s Audits sought to examine the impact of the projects against their stated objectives, as well as the impact of the law on the people of the area, and the political economy of the country.  Issues that arose were people’s experiences of coercive land acquisition, livelihood loss, corruption, undemocratic processes, human rights and due process violations.

The National People’s Audit found that India’s current SEZ policy and practices are fundamentally unconstitutional, anti-people, ecologically destructive, financially reckless, unsustainable and run completely contradictory to the government’s stated commitment to ‘sustainable and equitable development’. The audit found it to be a thinly disguised attempt at making available huge areas of land for real estate speculation by both Indian and foreign companies. They observed that SEZs hold little if any benefit for the poor people of the country, and only increase the growing inequities between the rich and the poor.

To read the full report please click here

To read press releases on the SEZ campaign please click here.

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