Mundra special economic zone spells displacement for fisherfolk: Livelihood of fisherfolk is at stake as the Mundra special economic zone (SEZ) on the northern shore of the Gulf of Kutch gets underway. Potentially the largest SEZ in the country, it covers 28 km of coastline and is spread across 13,000 hectares (ha). While the Adani Group, the promoters, claims the Mundra SEZ is the first to have both seaport and airport within it and offers substantial employment opportunities, NGOs feel the SEZ will cause displacement and destroy livelihoods. This aside, there are other serious concerns such as the destruction of mangrove forests, according to environmentalists. There are seven fishing settlements along the coastal fringe. Tattered Hessian sacks stitched together and wrapped around wooden post frames form simple dwellings that are home to the fisherfolk for 10 months of the year (the settlements are abandoned from June 10 to August 15 on account of the monsoon fishing ban).
Fisherfolk in these settlements practise two forms of fishing, lagadia and pagadia. Their settlements, which lack even basic infrastructure, are not recognised by authorities. According to the Gujarat fisheries department census (1997-98), these fishing settlements have a population of 3,979, representing 705 households. Because neither the government nor Adani recognises the presence of these settlements, the fisherfolk fear they will be evicted. Not all fisherfolk, however, live along the coastline. There are around 10 villages along the perimeter of the SEZ from where fisherfolk commute daily, by foot or by cycle, to practise pagadia. Those in the Shekhadiya village are outraged because an airstrip has been constructed across their route to the sea.
This defies a clause made by the district collectorate that existing routes would be respected. But the Adanis insist they were not aware of the route. The website of the Mundra sez reads: "This airport has 1,900 metres long airstrip and can handle executive jets with ease." An NGO supporting the fisherfolk’s cause had appealed to government authorities regarding the issue two years ago and there has been a series of meetings with the local Mamlatdar (revenue official) and the Adanis.
On February 14, 2007, five members of the community filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court. About the same time, around 50 villagers were protesting outside the district collectorate office in Mundra. Although Adani has provided an alternative access around the airstrip, extending the route by about 1 km, the fisherfolk are not content. They are concerned that the airstrip may be extended, entirely blocking their access. They are demanding a guaranteed route. The government sees the issue not just as a development versus displacement debate. They argue that the SEZ will bring about a positive transformation for the local communities. D Rajagopalan, principal secretary for industries and mines in Gujarat, says agricultural land in the state is limited because of scanty rainfall.
"The land quality is very poor and suitable to be diverted for industrialisation. In places where the SEZ developers acquire fertile arable land, farmers, aware of the value of their cash crops, receive the correct market price," says Rajagopalan. He also feels that people are grateful for the opportunity to learn new skills to work in industry. Kaushal Verma, deputy general manager, corporate communications, Adani, believes the sez will contribute positively to the region’s development. "The company is setting up an institute of technology to train local people and are actively encouraging female education. The intention is to develop a broad base of local skilled labour. A hundred or so toilets have been installed in villages and a medical team is dispatched daily from the new Apollo hospital," says Verma. But villagers told Down To Earth that they have had little contact with the developers and do not believe that medical treatment will be provided. Besides, even if it is given, they would not be able to afford the services. They are not particularly excited by the prospect of working as labourers for wages of Rs 65-100 per day either.
"We are free and in charge of our own livelihoods. We know only fishing. If we work in a factory we will be slaves to the Adanis," says Mamud Jafar Jam, a fisherman. While Ashwin Zinzuvadia, a local journalist, says the port gives employment to labour from other states, Verma puts the blame on the "mentality of the people who by and large refuse to work as labourers".
Courtesy: Central Chronicle - Bhopal,India