Farmers get Narendra Modi to back down in Hazira Special Investment Region

Written by fe Bureau | Ahmedabad | Updated: Apr 3 2014, 06:13am hrs
Gujarat, HaziraThe Gujarat govt has bowed to the pressure of protesting farmers and has decided to withdraw the Hazira SIR notification.
The Gujarat government has bowed to the pressure of protesting farmers and has decided to withdraw the Hazira Special Investment Region (SIR) notification that was issued in February this year the Hazira SIR covers 24,143 hectares of land.

Confirming this, Gujarat minister for industries, energy, petroleum, mines and minerals Saurabh Patel said the state has decided to withdraw the notification after talks with farmers since there was widespread apprehension regarding the term investment in the term SIR. According to Patel, the concept of SIR is a mega urban development authority involving thousands of acres of land which would be provided basic amenities including roads, hospitals and parks and other public spaces which would make the regions more investment-friendly.

Patel said this does not entail any acquisition of land. This is a misconception which is being fanned by NGO activists and our political opponents, Patel said.

He went on to add that in view of the apprehensions expressed by the farmers, the government was withdrawing the notification and would find other ways to develop the region.

Experts point out that SIRs take years to finalise and that this is simply part of the process. In developing SIRs, trunk infrastructure like highways are built on farmers land, and town planning is done. While farmers get 60-70% of the land back and are then free to sell it if they wish its value is greatly enhanced as the land usage is changed to allow setting up of industrial units.

The Gujarat Government Gazette published in February stated that the 36 villages of Oplad and Choryasi talukas in Surat, covering 24,143 hectares, will fall under the Hazira SIR. Hazira already has a cluster of large industries including majors like Shell, which has a Rs 3,000-crore LNG terminal and port facility, and Essar with a Rs 30,000-crore integrated steel complex including a 500 MW captive power consumption plant, port and steel facility. Other plants include Reliance's polyester unit, apart from units from L&T, Kribhco, Essar, ONGC, GAIL and IOC. The villages identified for the SIR are scattered in the vicinity of the Hazira cluster and are not only low-lying but also extremely underdeveloped.

Jayesh Patel, general secretary, Gujarat State Farmers' Association, which represents a large chunk of the affected farmers, told FE, The original notification for Hazira SIR came out in 2010 and following the farmers' protest, Saurabh Patel had given us assurance in writing that no SIR will come up at Hazira. After Patel's assurance, we withdrew the protests. But in 2014 again they came up with this notification and this time it included 36 villages of 24,143 hectares of land. This would affect 50,000 farmers. In view of this we met the minister today and put forward our representation. The minister told us there has been some communication gap and misunderstanding and the Cabinet has decided to cancel the notification. The in principle decision for withdrawing the SIR notification has been taken.

This comes a few months after the Modi government had given in to protesting farmers at the Mandal-Becharaji Special Investment Region (MBSIR) and excluded 36 out of 44 villages from the proposed SIR. MBSIR, which is envisaged as an auto-industry hub, is also the site for the upcoming Maruti Suzuki plant.

Recently, farmers at Dholera had also registered a protest against the proposed Dholera SIR. The farmers of 22 villages of the proposed Dholera SIR had gathered last Saturday to register their protest.

Their demands included withdrawal of the Special Investment Region Act and making the Narmada water available for irrigation in that area. Interestingly, the state government has in the recent past developed several roads and public amenities in Dholera without acquiring any land from villagers.