DR MOHAMMAD MANZOOR ALAM shares his anguish over the Nandigram events and asks for a political and

social consensus on the contentious issue of SEZs.

To begin with, I welcome West Bengal government’s decision to drop the SEZ plan in Nandigram. A decision like this had to be taken sooner than later, as the BJP and its ally Trinamool Congress had started fishing in the troubled waters to cash in on human misery. However, BJP’s double dealing was quite obvious as it wholeheartedly supports SEZ development in states it rules.

The situation in Nandigram following the massacre of farmers by policemen on March 14 is still tense. It is quite understandable. We strongly disapprove of the excessive use of force on poor folk. This is particularly galling in view of the fact that all this has happened at a time when a Marxist government is in power in Kolkata, a government that is rightly seen as sympathetic to the underprivileged.

Without sounding like some kind of neo-Luddites, we do have our apprehensions about the mushrooming of SEZs all over India. All we want is that the government should ensure the minimum dislocation of the affected people, protection of their habitat, livelihood and cultural patterns, besides adequate compensation to, and rehabilitation of, displacement victims.

In the absence of comprehensive, pro-poor, pro-local-people Central guidelines, governments like that of West Bengal should work out a package for farmers whose land is acquired for developing SEZs. Besides appropriate compensation and effective rehabilitation the government should also offer jobs to persons from families whose lands are required. The creation of permanent stakes for the affected people in the form of small shares in the business operations would go a long way in stabilising the situation.

We would be happy to see a quick inquiry to fix the responsibility for the firing, dismissal and arrest of the guilty, and initiation of immediate criminal proceedings against the guilty policemen. The next of the kin of the dead should get a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for each dead and Rs 2 lakh each for the grievously injured, besides free medical help.

All said and done the West Bengal government as well as the other state governments, along with the Centre, have to work out a fine balance between the conflicting needs of economic development and social justice. A debate on the issue must begin right away..g

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