In recent months governments acquiring farming land for setting up of special economic zones (SEZs), has hit the farming community in India hard. The setting up of Chinese-style SEZ in the country has been a mixed bag.
Nandigram in the eastern state of West Bengal
was aflame with protests over the setting up of an SEZ and Mangalore, the coastal city of Karnataka, has also seen protests in recent months.
What do farmers facing imminent threats of their lands being acquired by the government for industrialisation do in India? They have two options. Either launch a mass-agitation to oppose the acquisition or quietly collect the money doled out by the government for the acquired land and carry on with life.
Not anymore, farmers in the western state of Maharashtra
have shown a way and have come up with a third option, away from government support.
The farmers have joined hands to develop an agricultural farmland as a SEZ, where both industries and agriculture co-exist.
A small industrial town, some 20kms from the proposed Rajgurunagar international airport, in Maharshtra, is a business
model worth replicating.
"The most important factor which makes this development project unique is, out of a total 5202 acres of proposed project 2695 acres of land will be for irrigated farming while 2507 acres will be for the SEZ which is currently rain fed. The farmers are planning to grow crops for export from this area while the SEZ will be given on lease for commercial and manufacturing units, which want to set up units. The project is commendable in many ways - considering the scale and level of skill requirements to develop a SEZ," says a report on www.mangalorean.com, a website dedicated to Mangalore.
The Rajgurunagar SEZ project is not just one of the projects in India where farmers have joined hands to move away from agriculture.
Farmers from Magarpatta city on the outskirts of Pune
have come together to form a real-estate development company to develop the land into major residential, commercial and retail based projects. The sprawling 400-acre development is a model worth emulating in others parts of India.
A project is unique as for the first time farmers have come together to form such a major company and of such huge magnitude. The project which involves finances to the tune of Rs.5,000 crore is now a model which many others in India are trying to replicate.
Agriculture minded individuals have showed that they think from outside the tinderbox and have demonstrated that there is no need to give up their land at petty prices to the SEZ developers or to big industrial houses that make a killing out of the land acquired by them to set up industries.
"About 125 families had to stick together and pool their land which otherwise would have been sold to real estate agents on law prices. The farmers formed a company for the purpose which was a significant shift form the existing co-operative structure which Maharashtra is famous for. The farmers who were the stakeholders in the project have shares in proportion to their land holding. The farmers have reaped the benefits of forming a company and those who pooled the land are getting handsome rewards. Magarpatta City is the subject of discussion among various business schools for its unique model," says Edwin Lobo.
The farmers of the twin areas have showed their visionary leadership skills now it is left to the agitating farmers from other states to change their mindset and adopt a mixed bag of both industries and farming and one in which they have a critical role to play. Time will tell whether they adopt it to realize their dreams remains to be seen.
Further down in Goa, the SEZ was cancelled after violent protest by the Goans. And while the federal and provincial government debates over the legality of scrapping of the SEZ and uncertainty hangs in the air, Maharshtra farmers joining hands is certainly good news for the agitating farmers to chart their further course of action.