Women Farmers fast against Reliance Maha-Mumbai SEZ

Women Farmers fast against Reliance Maha-Mumbai SEZ

Seventeen farmers and activists from twenty four villages in Raigad District of Maharashtra have gone on indefinite fast since 19 July 2007. This is a symbolic non-violent struggle against the unabated land acquisition by the Reliance group for their 10,000-hectare-plus Maha-Mumbai SEZ (special economic zone).

It is high time for India to recognize the community for which development should be geared for. Development projects have been very often the cause of displacement and devastation for one of the most underserved communities. The Reliance Maha-Mumbai SEZ is just one of them.

The protest fast has been undertaken to demand withdrawal of Notification section 6 pertaining to land acquisition for SEZ projects which has not happened in spite of Maharashtra Chief Minister's public statements to this effect.

Although the Chief Minister had made a statement on the floor of the House that no 'forced acquisition' would take place in the state for SEZ projects, the notification permitting the land acquisition has not been withdrawn.

Women farmers and activists are on the forefront of the struggle and more than 50% of those sitting on the fast are women at the Tehsil headquarters in Pen (Raigad district).

Local Officials who met the farmers today spoke to activists Anant Patil and Ulka Mahajan who have demanded suspension of the corrupt Talati instrumental in fake sale deals for the SEZ. Activists also informed the official that top level Reliance officials in cohort with local agents have been involved in fake land acquisition.

Supports and solidarity groups are flooding the struggle site since morning of 19 July 2007 from Mumbai, Pune and other areas. Datta Iswalkar From Giringoan, Kamgar Sanghatana, Gjanan Khatu from People's Political front, and Prabhakar Narkar and Ramakant Patil from Janta Dal also visited the site and sat on dharna with the farmers almost the whole day on 19 July in support of the demands made by the farmers.

The key demands include:

* Stop forced acquisition and withdraw the section 6 notification immediately as assured on the state legislature floor by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra

* Declare the fraudulent land deals done by local agents on behalf of Reliance group illegal

* Public declaration by Collector listing land deals pertaining to SEZ

* Exclude 22 villages, of Pen, Raigad, and Maharashtra from the Maha-Mumbai SEZ

* Due to the polluted acidic water seeping in the farms by IPCL of Reliance Industries, Patalganga, the harvest has been totally destroyed. Activists demand just investigation in the pollution issue, and the farmers must be compensated for their loss for the paddy crop

It is high time that our policy makers and judiciary are reminded of Gandhiji's Talisman. One of the last notes left behind by Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, expressed his deepest social thought, which certainly gives the most righteous light and direction for development programmes - "I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."

Time to do some introspection.