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Favouring industrial lobby? 12,635 acres land acquisition for Telangana investment zone

Counterview Desk 

India’s civil rights network National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), condemning “blatant disregard” by the state and the industrial lobby for the lives of Telangana farmers, farm workers and scheduled tribes, has said almost 12,635 acres of land are likely to be acquired over 17 villages for the proposed National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ), Zaheerabad.
Seeking review of massive land acquisition and “flawed” public hearing for NIMZ, in a statement, it said, the authorities should “address all concerns raised by farmers, affected people, scientists and activists” instead of “blatant police violence against protesting farmers and other people affected by forced and inequitable land acquisition.”

Text:

NAPM is disturbed by the increasing number of instances of blatant police violence against protesting farmers and other people affected by forced and inequitable land acquisition. The recent police action to prevent people’s concerns from being represented at the public hearing for environmental clearance for the National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) Zaheerabad, at Bardipur, on January 20 is only the latest in a long series of instances of disregarding social impact and ecology-related concerns, while compliance with crucial laws related to environment, land acquisition and rehabilitation stand grossly violated.
An environmentally questionable project, so huge as the NIMZ, where almost 12,635 acres of land are to be acquired over 17 villages, displacing thousands of farmers and farm workers, especially women, from their livelihoods, needs a comprehensive multi-dimensional review and broad-based public consultation process, before being implemented.
We call upon the Telangana government and the Centre to abstain from any kind of forced acquisition or implementation of the project; and take into consideration all the questions raised by people and the long-term ramifications of the project for the local communities and ecology.

Police Violence at the Public Hearing for Environmental Clearance: January 20, 2021

The Public Hearing (PH) for Environmental Clearance (EC) for NIMZ Hyderabad, initially meant to be held in July 2020, was postponed by the Telangana High Court due to the Coronavirus pandemic, to the temporary relief of the people in the villages to be affected who had already expressed disagreement with the takeover of land. 
The hearing was finally organized by the district authorities in Bardipur, on January 20, 2021. More than 1,000 police personnel were deployed at the PH site and villagers planning to attend the hearing in protest were reportedly stopped at barricades raised at several points along the roads, and prevented from attending and expressing their opinion and opposition.
Multiple reports point to the police using physical force against the people including some of them present at the hearing, particularly women, when they began to raise slogans against the NIMZ. About 100 protesters were taken into police custody and two of them were arrested on the day of the hearing and later released. 
As has become the practice with almost all ‘public hearings’, the main aim of the police presence and action appears to have been to prevent public opposition to the NIMZ Environmental Clearance process and to ensure its swift transition into the next stages.

The NIMZ Zaheerabad Project Details

As one of the national investment and manufacturing zones which have been granted approval to be established across India under the Government’s “Make in India” initiative, NIMZ Zaheerabad received its final approval in December 2015, and it functions as an instrument approved by the Center’s Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, to realize the National Manufacturing Policy (2011). It is intended to emerge as one of several giant industrial ‘greenfield townships’ to promote ‘world-class manufacturing activities’.
NIMZ Zaheerabad is undertaken by Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (TSIIC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Government of Telangana, through SPV Zaheerabad NIMZ Ltd. In the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, NIMZ Zaheerabad promises to contribute Rs 44,000 crore to the annual industry input and to employ 2.66 lakh people by 2040.
The setting up of the NIMZ also promises to contribute to local infrastructure, both road and rail and to add to the existing (traditional) industries (Electrical machinery, metals, food processing, non-metal minerals, pharma) while also setting up non-traditional ones, supporting East-West trade.
In order to set it up, 12,635 acres of land have been devoted to NIMZ, comprising 8,773 acres patta land and 3,862 acres assigned land. The land in question is set to be acquired from 17 villages in the Nyalkal (14) and Jharasangam (3) mandals of Zaheerabad Assembly Constituency, and most of it belongs to small farmers and people of scheduled tribes.
While Sangareddy has been selected as the region for serving the interest of the future investors and businesses expected to profit from the NIMZ, the land to be acquired is extremely fertile, and yields three crops per year, especially commercial crops like sugarcane, ginger, turmeric, mango, guava, sandalwood and leafy vegetables and the acquisition would rob the local people of this source of livelihood generation. Between 2015 and 2016, SPV Zaheerabad NIMZ already acquired 2,900 acres of this land.

Objections to the NIMZ Zaheerabad Project

While financial benefits and creation of employment are emphasized along with the aims to provide infrastructure support and incentives for business in Telangana, the project is set to directly impact 5,000 farmers and 10,000 other people of the area, at the most conservative estimate. The actual long-term and cumulative impact will significantly increase the number of project-affected people. Multiple problematic aspects of the project have been raised over the years, but they have either not been addressed or they have been actively repressed.
1. Forcible acquisition of land from small farmers and people belonging to scheduled tribes, who are entirely dependent on agriculture for subsistence has been one of the grounds for protest from the beginning.
As early as December 2017, people who had been removed from their land protested, seeking livelihood security and adequate compensation. By June 2020, when the socio-economic survey which was part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was to be conducted, local people refused to allow it to take place in two of the three villages where it was proposed. In the one village where it was held, results indicated that around 70% of the people, entirely dependent on agriculture, opposed the setting up of NIMZ.
The land to be acquired is extremely fertile, yielding crops like sugarcane, ginger, turmeric, mango, guava, sandalwood and leafy vegetables
The argument conveniently brought by the EIA to support land acquisition here was that while most of the land was agricultural, at the time of the visit of the assessment team it was ‘lying barren’. In January 2021, at the public hearing for Environmental Clearance, people who already lost their land expressed their distress over it. Other local people intended to participate in the meeting to demand that what is left of their villages not be bought off and diverted for non-farm purposes. They were prevented from stating their concerns by the police.
2. Disproportionate impact on women farmers: From the initial stages, women farmers who depend on agriculture as primary source of income, but who do not have land in their names, anticipated the possibility of ‘land acquisition’ and ‘land procurement’, where only the State and the men of the households would be involved.
The latter would be persuaded / duped to part with the land for a paltry compensation of as low as Rs 5 lakh per acre, and the promise of jobs after the coming up of NIMZ. The displacement and loss of farmland would have a brutal impact on women’s lives, economically as well as socially.
The women in these and neighbouring villages have been cultivating the land for decades and have been organizing themselves into Sanghams, a system that will collapse with the arrival of NIMZ. In fact, four years back, in August, 2016 NIMZ-affected landless agricultural women farmers including Alige Tukkamma, Jayamma and others from Bardipur were instrumental in approaching the High Court and obtaining an order restraining the state government from proceeding with large scale ‘land procurement’ under the controversial GO MS No. 123, which violated provisions of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
3. Inadequate compensation for land has also been a cause for concern. After the approval of the plans for the NIMZ, land prices in the area grew, reaching as high as Rs 25-30 lakhs per acre, while the land owners are offered a paltry sum of Rs 7-8 lakh, during the acquisition process.. It is near impossible to purchase any alternative farmland with the meagre compensation offered. If such an agreement is reached with the people who own the land, the loss of rich agricultural land has to be equitably compensated, in terms of LARR, 2013.
4. pollution risks have not been adequately measured and anticipated, as a group of scientists, ‘Scientists for People’, who carefully analysed the draft EIA report, wrote in a petition to the MoEFCC, well before the hearing. They asked for the rejection of the EIA report for presenting fictitious figures for pollution loads and not including the Food Processing Industries, which contribute some of the highest levels of pollution.
The farmers and villages of the affected and neighbouring villages are concerned about the unmitigated impact of land and water pollution, and demand that no polluting industries be set up as part of NIMZ. It is also necessary to take into account the fact that there are four reserved forests within a 5 km radius of the area designated for the NIMZ.
5. NIMZ is likely to employ local people as unskilled labour, as indicated in the EIA report, rendering the lives of those displaced even more precarious, across multiple generations. No provisions appear to have been made to guarantee employment, provide skill training for the interested youth, or address the loss of livelihood for the older generations and women, in particular.
Protests against NIMZ have taken place over a long period of time, predominantly organized by NIMZ Rythula Poratha Samithi, supported by democratic groups and certain opposition parties in the state.
National Alliance of People’s Movements condemns the blatant disregard of the State and the industrial lobby for the lives of the farmers, farm workers and scheduled tribes whose farming practices not only provide for their subsistence but are also more mindful of the environment.
We share the concerns and support the demands articulated by the farmers, affected villagers and environmental activists during the ongoing protests and in preparation of the public hearing.
We demand:
  • The cancelling of all land acquisition undertaken so far for the NIMZ project under the controversial Go.MS.No.123 or through the Telangana State LARR (Amendment) Act 2017, as all land acquisition taken up prior to securing Environmental Clearance is illegal as per order of Supreme Court reported in 2006 6 SEC 371 and 2020 SEC online SC 1005. All lands acquired so far must be returned back to the original landowners without further delay, along with compensation for the interim period.
  • No further land be acquired from the people, in violation of the safeguards and procedures set out in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 and the EIA Notification, 2006, especially without a free, fair and informed public consultation process.
  • Investigation into the use of police force against protestors peacefully participating in the public hearing and action against the concerned authorities for directing and deploying force.
  • The land acquisition should not proceed until all these concerns are resolved and adequate independent investigation is carried out into the inconsistencies pointed out in the EIA process. The TNSPCB, Expert Appraisal Committee and MoEF&CC must withhold any decision, clearing the project in haste, by disregarding the environmental and social impacts.
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