The landowners whose land are acquired for SEZs are often found to be dissatisfied with the deal. The author states an alternative solution to the problem.

The Constitution entrusted to the State the custody of all lands. Custody is holding. It is not ownership. Elected representatives were intended to hold their positions as a sacred trust for the people. People includes tribals. Elected representatives were expected to oversee functioning of the bureaucracy to subserve public good. Public good also includes good of tribal people.  Equity was to be the guiding principle, and Inequitable distribution of wealth avoided.

Over time, we found we  got an India riddled with corrupt public officials and public representatives. They learnt quickly that legal loopholes and delays effectively meant they could amass illegal wealth and retain it, at best serving a few years in prison, if at all a trial actually ever ended, and then enjoying themselves for ever, and generally, more often simply enjoying themselves for ever.  The latest trend that bail should be the norm, makes their glee even more gleeful. (It is sad that the new shift as regards bail came after several rich and powerful people were put in prisons, and the thought did not strike judicial minds earlier when countless poor people languished in prison, often as in terror cases, for a decade or more.)

An SEZ is a Special Economic Zone. It uses land taken from other uses, and arrogates it towards what the State believes is a more optimal utilisation. Public good is supposed to be served. “Supposed to be” are the operative words.   An SEZ can be acquired by people who can drum up enough money to pay for fifty to a hundred acres of valuable land. Now, people who can drum up enough money to pay for fifty to a hundred acres of valuable land are rich people. They get this land at a consideration of about 20% of real value. They get subsidies, tax holidays, preferential supplies of raw material, free power… They become richer.  They are thus able to compete with other businesses very successfully, drive competition out of business, become richer.  Inequitable distribution of wealth takes place. A guiding principle of the Constitution exits from governance. Governance then becomes malevolent.

The people whose land is taken, are small farmers. In rural and semi-urban societies, land holding is a matter of prestige and status. Their land gone, they are reduced from landlords to laborers, reducing status in society, destroying their children’s marital prospects, lowering them in village and town hierarchy. Having received just 20% of real value for their land, they are also looted. Again, governance then becomes malevolent. Hence, unrest is inevitable.

State functionaries who have participated in this latest version of re-colonisation of free India, are immediately offered lucrative positions in the companies that floated the SEZs. Obviously no coincidence, one suspects. Therefore, it is safe to assume these worthies will not have the slightest concern for any positive change. Look, we can’t expect people to just surrender their carefully acquired “retirement benefits”, can we ?  How does one, given their guaranteed non-participation, find a solution?  Enter a variant of the Islamic concept of a joint venture, a “mudaraba” or a “musharika“.

Identify the land. Take the 20% payable as compensation that impoverishes and humiliates, and pay it to the landholders. That leaves the State with 80%. Issue equity shares in the business that the SEZ is to carry out, to the extent of that percentage, shareholders of that equity being the landlords. The SEZ benefits will then, on the basis that the actual street or market value of the land is the investment of the landholders in the project, inure to the advantage of the people whose land the project is built upon. They will then graduate on the social ladder from being landlords to businessmen. Their children will still have good marriage prospects. They will retain their self respect. The result will be equitable. The constitutional guidelines will be followed, in letter and spirit. Governance will be benign, respected.

I can visualise horror on the faces of corporate bigwigs : am I crazy ?  Do I really think these unlettered fellows, rustic crude chaps that they are, can sit in corporate meetings and understand what the heck is going on ?  Is it not crazy to think that their votes will be the basis for corporate decisions that requires expertise of fiscal and economic and production models they will never ever have dreamt of ?  Absolutely.  That is why they will hold that equity, through the medium of a “SEZ Equity Holding Corporation of India” headed by a body comprised of one retired chief justice of the supreme court of India nominated by the editors of the ten largest circulated newspapers in the country, one delegate of the ten largest NGOs in the country operating in the rural and semi urban areas, one university professor of economics nominated by the editors of the ten largest circulated newspapers in the country, one author nominated by the ten largest circulated newspapers in the country, and one industrialist nominated by the ten largest circulated newspapers in the country, and the Principal Secretary, Department of Finance, Government of India. These six people will appoint a single proxy by majority vote, to represent the interests of the landholders at the voting process. Problem solved.

Progress assured, loot prevented. The rural and semi urban populace will not feel cheated by the State that ought to protect their interests. The rich SEZ owners will have to agree to a more equitable version of the present regime. There will be less unrest, less frustration, less reason for people to resort to “struggles” whether armed or otherwise to ventilate grievances, less burden on the State’s police and paramilitary forces, greater acceptance of the face of governance, peace will prevail. Of course, if “Islamic” solutions are politically a “minority appeasement accusation” problem, you can always call them “Equitable Solutions” !

By Shafeeq Rehman Mahajir

Also See:
Jharkhand: Know your Tribal Land
Human or Environment: What should be given preference?

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