Gagret SEZ: ‘Campaign of government full of lies and deceit’


By: Tikender Singh Panwar

After the promulgation of the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 in Feb 06, the proposed Gagret SEZ was cleared by the Union ministry, which will be constructed by SKIL infrastructures limited in Una district of Himachal Pradesh. After the coming into existence of this Act, there has been large-scale resentment amongst the people in different parts of the country.

According to Prasenjit Bose (The Marxist XXII 4, December 06): “The intended purpose of the SEZ Act was to provide a stable policy framework for creating special Economic Zones, which would serve as engines for industrial growth and exports. Although India was the first country in Asia to have set up a free trade zone in Kandla as early as 1965 and seven more Export Processing Zones were set up by the Central government till 1994, the Indian economy failed to emerge as a leading producer and successful exporter of manufactured goods unlike several other developing countries. However, the initial objective underlying the SEZ Act has been severely compromised, if not entirely defeated by the subsequent actions of the UPA Government.”

Though during the period the Left parties submitted a detailed note to the UPA government seeking amendments to the SEZ Act and the SEZ rules, the government responded to the Left parties’ note in a negative, which can be summed up through the following: “The SEZ Act and rules have been in force now only for 9-10 months and is at a nascent stage. No abuse of the SEZ Act and rules has been noticed so far. Any arbitrary change in the SEZ Act would send a wrong signal to the investors… ..The department of Commerce would therefore recommend that no amendments to the SEZ Act be considered for at least 2 years.” The government failed to assess the importance of the demands raised by the Left parties. The demands particularly figured around the issue of land acquisition and displacement, on putting a cap on the number of SEZs, on criteria for processing non-processing areas, land use within SEZ area, tax concessions, workers’ rights, prevention of speculative finance and amendment to the SEZ rules.

It is in this background that I would like to highlight the deceit, lies and complete hoodwinking of the people in the proposed SEZ in Gagret. The peasants of the area are leading a struggle against the SEZ for the last couple of months. Here the SKIL construction intends to build an air strip along with certain ancillary units, the exact detail of which is still not known. Presently, and the Matri Bhumi Sangharsh Samiti is spearheading the agitation. The Himachal Kisan Sabha an affiliate of the All India Kisan Sabha is also supporting the agitation. President of the Sangharsh Samiti, Dhulam Singh is the district committee member of the Himachal Kisan Sabha.

The governments, both the previous one (Congress) as well as the incumbent (BJP), are hell bent to hand over the land of the peasants to the company. Here it needs to be noted that there are a large number of small and marginal farmers in the entire area that is to be occupied. More than 80% of the peasants own less than one hectare of land. This area has seen strong land movement known as the Mujara Movement and hence the land is quite evenly distributed. The government has unleashed a campaign of lies which needs to be taken up one by one:

1. That the land to be acquired is just 4000 acres and that too will be adjoining the ‘Swan ‘ river. Whereas the fact remains that an area of 1.5 lakh kanals, which equals to nearly 11,500 acres, is to be acquired and it has become clear in the information gathered through an application under the Right to Information Act. This amounts to, according to local estimates, an area of 12 kilometers in length and 5 kilometers in breadth.

2. Another lie the government is propagating is that the area to be acquired is barren and lacks vegetation. I have personally visited the site and can say this with full command that the land is amongst the most fertile area of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Here’s another revealing data: (a) The total number of tube wells bored and used by the government of HP are a startling 3,000 (b) but the total number crosses 10,000 including the private ones. (c) The Revenue departments says that there are just over 7,000 trees in the entire area, whereas the fact remains that the number is in lakhs.

3. The third fact which the government is misleading is regarding the total population that would be covered under the SEZ. The government initially said that the land generally inundated by floods across the Swan would be acquired, but the RTI has provided an altogether different picture. More than 25 villages would be wiped out. This means a population of more than 80,000 would be effected and ousted. The villages include, Ambota, Matyalka, Ghananal, Dioli, Nangal Jariala, Bhadrakali, Gondpur Banehra, Nakdoh and Kailah Nagar.

4. The much propagated trumpeted hooter blown by the government finally comes to the best bet option saying that the peasants would get the best rates in the market. Whereas the fact is that the government has disallowed any new sale deed taking place in the area alleging peasants jack up the prices of land so that a good bargain can be had from the company. The rates offered by the SKIL infrastructures is from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 per kanal, which is not even one fifth the price the peasants got in other areas as compensation.

Why the proposed SEZ should be opposed?

1. First of all, the present SEZ goes against the basic understanding, that fertile agricultural land must not be occupied. The land that is being targeted is not only fertile also happens to be multi-crop land.

2. Having an overall look at the kind of development taking place in Himachal Pradesh, there has been large- scale displacement of the peasants since long. Further supplementing the woes is that the terrain is not only tough but largely hilly where limited agriculture is done. When Bhakra Dam was constructed there was large scale displacement, this was further compounded by the Ranjit Sagar Dam at Pong on Beas River. Still after so many decades the displaced families have not got land. Initially they were sent to Rajasthan, then again thrown back with no rehabilitation. Even at the proposed SEZ many a families are those who are Bhakra and Pong Dam oustees. Further the total ploughable land in the state is nearly 6 lakh hectares out of which more than 1 lakh hectare (answered during a debate in Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha) has submerged in various dams, etc. plus every day the state government is signing MOUs with parties for hydel projects, cement plants and so on. This has further compounded the problem of displacement and the issue of rehabilitation is amongst the foremost ones. In addition to this in the state more than 2/3rd of the land is under the forest department where no activity can be conducted. The peasant whose land is already squeezing is left with not other option but to fight for it.

3. The third major reason for opposing the present SEZ remains that there is hardly any plain tract of land in the state where some agricultural operations are carried out. Una is one of them. In fact this is the only district which is plain; rest of the state is hilly.

Role of the government and different parties

As usual both the previous government and the incumbent have hoodwinked the people of the area. According to the leaders of the agitation the parties in power have been heavily bribed by the company management. They even claim to have a CD of this bribery. This was confessed by one DS Grewal who is a GM of the company. He has given it in writing that the company has not only bribed the previous government and the present one through their MLA’s and ministers, every third person of the government machinery right from the local level revenue officer to the district collector are on their pay rolls. This would not be a big surprise as the reports prepared from down below regarding the nature of land, vegetation, etc was altogether faulty and tempered. Because of this reason on the call of the Sangharsh Samiti a meeting at the district revenue office has been fixed for October 16, 2008, in which mass mobilization would be done so that the actual area and the real figures with respect to the SEZ could be made available. In addition, the government has also propped up some individuals to negate the present movement of its sharpness.

The Agitation

The agitation is continuing since last 9 months. A delegation of more than 700 people laid a siege in front of the state Vidhan Sabha. Later, the district magistrate of Una was picketed for several hours in which thousands participated. A meeting of the Sangharsh Samiti was held on September 28 which was also attended by the Himachal Kisan Sabha. Dr. Onkar Shad, general secretary, and I also participated in the meeting. The meeting gave a call for mass mobilization for October 16 before the district revenue officer.


Here when the demand for the cancellation of the proposed SEZ needs to be propagated and widely publicized, the issue of the alternative also needs to be given. That includes not only saving the land from speculative land mafia, but also to make it remunerative, and this is the primary task which is being targeted by the Kisan Sabha. In addition to this, the repeal of the draconian Land Acquisition Act of the British rule whereby the peasantry becomes helpless creatures when it comes to legal remedies, is to be highlighted. Once the proceedings under various sections of the Act starts, there is hardly any alternative left with the kisans than to bargain for better price for their land.

(The writer is President, Himachal Kisan Sabha)

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  1. Hello

    Its really very bad that such agitations are taking place in peaceful land of himachal pradesh. But, associated stakeholders are requested not to make it other singur.

  2. <DIV ALIGN=JUSTIFY>I fail to understand why the law does not allow the company to buy land directly from the farmers. Why should the state meddle in between? After all it is a free market economy and the benefits of free market should be extended to the land owners. Why should the state acquire land and then hand it over to the company? If the govt. is hell bent on bringing SEZ to the state then, isn't the law of not allowing selling of agriculture land for non-agriculture purpose obselete? Why is the state govt. afraid of doing things in the spirt of free market.

    Address this law first and things may fall in place</DIV ALIGN=JUSTIFY>

  3. It is a known fact, when we mismanage our growth, society turns out disappointed youths into gangsters, rioters, hooligans, thieves, all a dipressed lot. What we would get in return, a cheerless society.

    Whenever, any growth is envisaged, or planned, many hue and cries are raised, which in my personal opinion are not based on facts, ground realities, but on assumptions, perceptions.

    I had a friend who said I donot want to travel by Air, because Plane may crash and I will die. It is a funny logic.

    Similarly, many people talked about Singur kind of agitation, everywhere in Himachal and other states.

    Can any one tell me, has any one asked, other stake holders of the society, besides the Land Owners, what they want. They want Growth, Employment, Education of their children, a better life. Which we are denying to them, in the name of Protection to one Section of the Society (Land Owners of Affected Area.

    Why donot we compare, overall Income of the Land in Question, vis a vis the benefits to other sections of the society, land affected persons, govt., business people etc.

    I feel it is totally undesirable to leave the Industry to the mercy of Land Owners who are left free to demand any price of their land. Industrial growth in our country vis a vis China has been much slow, because of too much of liberty and looseness in Political Will, to transact business in true spirit. Todays' politicians are afraid of Singur, but ask jobless bengalis, what they have lost, a Presitigious Tata project, which an Intelligent CM of Gujrat has managed to snatch for its people.

    In fact so called environmentalists, kisan representative organisations should ponder, how much the value of farmers land will increase if such projects come in their area.

    These are my personal views, those who donot subsribe to them or differ with me, are welcome to do so.

    I think we have to ponder over todays' problems, keeping tomorrow in mind, rather than worrying for tomorrow and forgetting today.

    With due regards – SS Jaryal

    • With due respect to your views Mr. Jaryal. Please don't compare India with China with regard to so called development.  India is a democratic nation, not a totalitarian state. You must have seen the ‘development’ of USSR of yesteryears. Fortunately, in our country we do have rights and Rule of Law. If you have to compare, compare it with democratic developed countries and please find the difference yourself. 

      Industrial growth at what cost, have you seen the lives of families whose ancestral agricultural lands have been taken over! Fiber of social life has shattered. With money depleting they are being left recluse in their own lands due to greed of system coparceners and their development-theory sympathizers. Agriculturists had been agriculturists because they could not be bankers, builders, sociologist, economist, investor and so on. If one is really interested in their welfare please make them bankers, builders, sociologist, economist, investor first, then seek their land. By merely puffing their shallow pockets with wads of currency notes which economic growth this society is going to achieve. Instead of buying land why not they offer joint ownership of land to the land-owners? There could be hundreds of other models too, why stick to buying land? When one discusses stakeholders, one does not relegate the landowners so summarily, he is the only important stakeholder.If one goes by the definition of proposed SEZs, every SEZ is gonna be a state within the state. Virtually running its own dictate within the SEZ. Thus, the person in the guise of a corporate body is going to be crowned king of the undeclared kingdom called SEZ. India, could abolish princely states with great efforts, and this nation does not deserve to return back to those gloomy times again.

      Have these lumpen elements ever dared to take up these issues with social-scientists ?India is a vast country, and lot of areas are really poorer who do need money of these voracious fatties desperately. Why not they go to those areas and 'develop' this nation. Is this sustainable growth…but growth at all, in the first place. 

  4. Something to ponder:

    The Bengalis are our Irish, who as Yeats said, have an abiding sense of tragedy. Their tragic sense lies in striving to be rational but recognising life’s underlying irrationality. One cannot avoid tragedy, but strengthening institutions like property rights can help to minimize it.

    Property rights and SEZ

  5. I hail from Gondpur Banehra Upper, serving at Delhi. I hope, the evil designs of these SEZ mongers around Gagret, are over due to endless efforts of you people only. I respect the struggle of my brethren…..

    One thing I was amazed about is the power of Google Earth. The whole area under question is clearly agricultural area as seen from the satellite pictures. This area is most populated area in lower Himachal. Even the houses can also be counted. What to talk of jokers who could see only a few hundred trees. Make these johnnies see the Google mapping, whom are they trying to befool. Google Earth has provided clear imagery of this area.

  6. Hi
    I would like to ask why that area is lagging behind .In haryana i think people were backward but development of area changed the life style of all.We are coming out of state for earning living away from native area.No good industries,no hosipitals,no street lights,no high standard education for children .then I think that is only visting peaceful area.all think development require or not?Why government and people are not thinking about common citizen life.I heard airport plan is pending from 50 years back .

  7. Its pity to see politics and few people are trying to block such an enormous reformation of Gagret. There has been ZERO % growth since independence. I myself has been watching from past 3 decades. This is a bright chance for the people of HP to see the growth like Gurgaon, Noida and currently kundli is witnessing. I will never oppose such SEZ developments, as I am myself is the part of DMRC. 

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