Even the high court has noticed. Laws are being bent to woo investors. Anumeha Yadav reports on the Adani Sez
KHAMISA ALI Mohammad squints against the glare of the sea, inspecting his fishing net. For the third time this season, ships sailing down the Kutch coast to India’s largest private port at Mundra have damaged his fishing net. His earnings are down by more than Rs. 45,000 per season while industrialist Gautam Adani, who operates the port, has been ranked the seventh richest Indian on the Forbes list of billionaires — the only one from Ahmedabad.
The battle-weary fisherman, one among the 10,000 who contribute Rs. 66 crore every year to Mundra’s economy, is more sardonic than angry. “These companies will bring us development? These beggars who steal from us?” he asks.
There is a similar scorn among 400 Wagher Muslim fisher families here on Randh Bander, a 20-km mudflat on the northern shore of the Gulf of Kutch that has been used for fishing since the past four centuries. It is part of an 80-km stretch on the Mundra coast where the Gujarat government gave permits in 2005 to the Adani Group to set up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of heavy industry and power plants. At the Vibrant Gujarat summit last month, Adani, who was the chief guest, announced Rs. 80,000 crore of investment in ports, infrastructure and power plants.
On 11 February, responding to a PIL by Mundra’s farmers, the Gujarat High Court served a notice to Adani’s SEZ and the Gujarat government for illegally taking 231 acres of Navinal village pastures for the Mundra SEZ. Navinal is just one of 23 villages whose sarpanches sold off grazing land keeping the Gram Sabha in the dark.
“Our sarpanch was a plumber; he now has a Rs. 6 crore company. First they sent guards to stop us from using our land, now they send the police and BSF. When we approach the company for a job, they turn us away,” says Ibrahim Turk, a high school graduate of Dhrab village.
Investors are flocking to Gujarat, but the struggle of farmers and fishing families in Kutch reveals the state’s growth paradox. Kutch district constitutes over a quarter of Gujarat’s area, its coast making up half of the state’s 1,600-km coastline. What is going on is central to understanding what is happening to Gujarat’s land, coasts and resources — and how state policy weighs in against the poor.
During the Vibrant Gujarat summit in January 2009, the Narendra Modi government signed MoUs allowing the Adani group a Rs. 15,000-crore expansion of its SEZ over the next 15 years. Public hearings to consult those affected were held in Mundra on 5 October 2010, five years after the Adani group started building roads and flyovers for the SEZ.
To pacify families protesting at the public meeting, Adani Foundation representatives said they would spend Rs. 4 crore on fishing nets. “Since Muharram, they have been asking us to fill forms for their fishing nets. If creeks and our access to the sea are blocked, what use are the nets?” asks Anwar Wagher, a fisherman from Navinal. Farmers from Zarpara display photographs of reserved mangrove forests indiscriminately cut by the Adani Group. “The local people seem to have awareness about the industrial project but not the analytical impact of the project,” noted G Vaghela, a Kutch district official after the meeting.
Two months later, on 15 December, a team from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) inspected Mundra Port and SEZ and found the Adanis blocking flow of water in creeks and choking mangrove forests. It had illegally built a pipeline to carry dredged material for reclamation, and started building an airport, a township, and a hospital on the coast without clearances. These showcause notices, close on the heels of the ministry’s scrutiny of two other large projects — POSCO and Lavasa — brought the spotlight on the SEZ.
Reserved mangrove forests were cut indiscriminately for industrial projects yet to be sanctioned
But MoEF notices touched only the tip of the brazen illegalities labelled economic development on the Kutch coast. Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MASS), a labour union of 10,000 fisherfolk, has maps submitted by Adani Group since 2004 to get environment clearances. They show the high tide line (HTL) 10 km south of its actual position. According to government maps of 1991, the SEZ actually falls in Coastal Regulation Zone I (CRZ-I). In the maps submitted by the Adani Group for clearance of its Water Front Development Project in 2008, the HTL is 3 km south of what it is in state maps of 1991, and then in maps submitted last year for clearance of its SEZ, the HTL shifts again, this time by 7 km. “The SEZ and power plants the government has permitted are illegal in this coastal zone,” says Ahmedabad-based lawyer Anand Yagnik.
REPLYING TO TEHELKA’s queries, Adani Group spokesman Devendra Amin said, “We used EIA maps prepared by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO). There is no illegal reclamation. In fact, we reclaimed only one-fourth of what we have approvals for.” He declined to share the year and extent of these permissions.
NIO, one of 38 laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, does not take any responsibility. Scientist SN Gajbhiye, who prepared 17 of 21 EIA reports submitted by the Adani group, said he could not explain the map anomaly. “Adani’s port and reclamation started years back. The government had already authorised the project; my job was not to see what is legal or illegal. I used the maps Adani Group gave assuming these were as approved by the state,” he said.
CRZ-I zones are ecologically so sensitive that only traditional fishing, saltpans and essential port-based activities are permitted. Yet, locals say since 2005, over 1,000 hectares of mangrove forests have been destroyed, exposing Mundra to disasters like the 1998 Kutch cyclone in which 3,000 died. A 2007 study ‘Valuation of Coastal Resources’ by economist Indira Hirway puts the value of Kutch’s mangroves as fodder, fuel and fish breeding grounds at over Rs. 300 crore. Maps and satellite images accessed by MASS confirm that the Adani Group is still illegally reclaiming land for its SEZ. Documents accessed by TEHELKA show the brazen land grab had started in 1992 when Adani asked for coast land to make salt. But it never did this, reveal letters written by Mundra officials in 1997.
A year later, it asked for land for its port, which it now wants converted into an SEZ. It had started dredging the coast and filling up creeks, reveal letters of 2001 written by officials as well as commercial fishing vessel associations using Kandla port.
The illegal land grab started in 1992 on the pretext of making salt. Now an SEZ is being mooted
The coastal stretch between Mandvi and Mundra is one that the govern – ment’s Department of Ocean Development (DOD) identified as “a relatively rich fallow land, with Mundra having the maximum vegetation in the area”. The DOD study recommends two stretches without any mangroves, corals and mudflats for future development, between Jakhau and Mandvi, and between Mundra and Kandla creek. Contradicting this and its own Town Planning and Valuation Department, the government approved the Adani group’s SEZ.
In 2002, facing criticism from the RSS supported Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Modi government had notified that for every 100 animals, a village is entitled to 40 acres of gauchar or pastures. But contradicting its own rules, it passed 23 orders in one day to allot 6,582 acres of 23 villages’ pastures to the Adanis in July 2005. For all this land Gautam Adani, the owner of a Rs. 25,000-crore company and two private jets, paid an average rate of Rs. 10 per sq m.
Mundra, with its deep groves of coconuts, mango and chikoo and fertile land was like an oasis on the dry Kutch coast. Farmers grow tomato, moong and sesame. Annual income from dates is Rs. 20 crore, records the Date Palm Research Station, Mundra. There are a large number of pastoralists and more than 1.5 lakh cattle. Baroi and Mundra panchayats passed successive resolutions in 2004 and 2005 forbidding diversion of pasture land.
The Adanis gave land taken on lease at Rs. 1-4 per sq metre for Rs. 600 per sq m to public sector units Indian Oil Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. In 2004, the Centre had asked all states to notify rules to restrict SEZ promoters from selling acquired land to others. “Modi delayed the amendment for three years till 2007, till Adani illegally sold off this land,” says Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, who raised this issue in the state Assembly. By the time the law was amended, land was being sold at up to Rs. 2,000 per sq m.
The Modi government topped off its largesse of land to the Adani Group with five-year tax breaks of over Rs. 3,200 crore, almost four times what it had marked for redeveloping Kutch after the 2001 earthquake. Government data shows an investment of Rs. 1,31,702 crore in the Adani SEZ, port and power plant, but only 38,875 jobs created. That comes to an astonishing figure of Rs. 3.38 crore for creating one job — exposing the whole development lie that Gujarat is always spinning out.
Addressing the Vibrant Gujarat summit on 13 January, Modi — who also holds the industries, mines, minerals, energy, petrochemicals and ports portfolios — talked of his commitment to climate change. Referring to his latest book on climate change, he said, “Al Gore talked about the Inconvenient Truth, but I’m giving you the solution: Convenient Action.”
Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Political analyst Achyut Yagnik, referring to the unrest on the limestone-rich Gulf on Khambhat coast says, “They are removing all limestone from the Saurashtra coast, and then they talk about climate change. Gujarat has 24 percent of India’s coast and this government is destroying it. Corruption is part of the system and the propaganda machine is on an overdrive – rath yatras, garib melas, vibrant summits, etc.,” he says. Right now in Mahua, Bhavnagar, 25,000 farmers are protesting because the government allotted 268 hectares, of which a 222-ha chunk is a water body, to Nirma Ltd to build a cement plant.
Modi did not respond to TEHELKA’s questionnaire on land policies, and the brazen illegalities going on in Mundra. But Mundra and Mahua were among the few places where the BJP lost in last October’s taluka polls that the party swept in other parts of the state. It was a small but significant note of defiance from those affected by the industrial revolution’.
At the summit, Modi had declared that Gujarat had “zero labour problems”. A week later, 30,000 powerloom workers blocked roads and set vehicles on fire in Surat to protest low wages. Modi promised 52 lakh jobs at this year’s summit. He was silent on why only 11 percent of 37.5 lakh jobs he promised in the past two summits have materialised. Or what is the cost of the industry incentives. And who would bear this, to gain what.
The shrill rhetoric has gone from “investment drive” to “inclusive growth”, but the numbers reveal where the gains end up. The Survey of Industries data shows workers’ share as wages in Gujarat has fallen from 23 to 8 percent. The gap between incomes of the rich and the poor has risen to more than the national average, says a 2010 paper by Rajesh Shukla of the National Council of Applied Economics Research.
Planning Commission data shows that between 1993 and 2005, Gujarat slipped from sixth to eighth spot among 20 major states in the percentage of poor living below the poverty line. Despite high growth, its rate of reducing poverty was among the lowest, worse than West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. In human development index, it slipped from fifth to ninth place.
A 2010 report by IFPRI, a US-based research organisation supported by 64 governments, put Gujarat among the five worst performing states in India in reducing hunger, along with Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
But critics say it is increasingly difficult to be heard over the shrill rhetoric. “If you question anything, you are labelled anti-Gujarat and anti-development,” says economist Dr Indira Hirway, who co-authored Gujarat’s Human Development Report, 2004.
“Industrialisation in Gujarat is not decided by market forces but by government concessions to a few industrial groups. This is crony capitalism, not even a free-market or a neo-liberal paradigm. Tough questions make the government angry; they ask why you are sticking your nose into these matters.”
Gujarat was among the top five states in per capita income since the 1960s but new policies are benefiting a handful at the cost of the majority, and the environment,” says Hirway.
This truth surfaces in other ways. “We got 67,000 calls on our RTI helpline in the past five years; people often call us when they are being pressurised. Most of the calls are about land grab of common property resources and illegal mining,” says Harinesh Pandya, an RTI activist.
Last July, RTI activist and environmentalist Amit Jethwa was shot dead outside the Gujarat High Court three weeks after he filed a PIL challenging illegal limestone mining, feeding the cement industry, on the Saurashtra coast. But no questions were asked when Anil Ambani committed Rs 50,000 crore investment in the cement sector on the same coast at the summit.
Not just wages, workers’ rights are also getting eroded. “There are no records that workers even exist, so they get no benefits. Last month, workers went on a rampage when two of them working in the chimney of Adani’s Mundra power plant died,” says Raghunath Manwar of Occupational Health and Safety Association, a NGO fighting for compensation for over 100 workers suffering from asbestosis in the state.
No dissent is tolerated. “Seven migrant workers died after drinking polluted water at a brick kiln in Ahmedabad last year, but they don’t allow us to even register a union for them. Our office has been attacked, our workers have been attacked, they say we are involved in Maoist activities,” says Preeti Oza of Eent Batha Mazdoor Union.
Four years ago, Modi announced the Rs 11,000 crore Sagarkhedu Yojna for fisherfolk and saltpan workers and Rs 15,000 crore Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana for tribals. If the struggle of 10,000 fisherfolk in Mundra reveals the government’s attitude to traditional coastal communities, the struggles of the tribals, who constitute 15 percent of the population, shows the hollowness of inclusive growth platitudes.
In the tribal pockets in Dahod, which is a four-hour bus ride away from Ahmedabad, poor farmers of Chitrodiya, Kharsana, Shankarpura, Prathampur are dying of respiratory diseases contacted when they migrated to work in Godhra’s mineral factories. Bijiyabhai Bhagora, who watched three sons, two daughters-in-law and a daughter succumb to silicosis, has tears in his eyes as he describes what he has silently suffered. “Six of them died in a year. Who should I have gone to? I was so distressed, I wanted to kill myself,” he says. If only anyone was listening.