The Special Exploitation Zone: SEZ’s flaws and failures

Shambu Jayachandran

Author and Social Activist

A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a geographically bound hub , where economic laws related to export and import are more flexible and liberal as compared to the laws imposed on other parts of the country.The story of Special Economic Zones came to Indian scenario when SEZ Act was passed by the Indian Government in May 2005. The same received Presidential nod on the 23rd of June, 2005. The then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, said: “SEZs are here to stay” in his introduction speech.The bill came into effect on 10th February 2006, bringing simplification of procedures in export and import laws.

Why the unrest and criticism if the policy was made for economic growth of India?

SEZs which were supposed to create employment, supply quality “make in India” goods and services is criticized vehemently everywhere in regards to our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roaring policy for failing in its purpose somehow. The question is ‘why’? Let’s see a few points that have been indicated by many:

Issue of Labor:

Our parliament from the time of independence has enacted a number of legislations concerning welfare of the labors and labor laws. But the SEZ Act leaves anybody under the apprehension that it hardly gives any space for the welfare of the labors who are involved in its development. The rights of the labor in SEZ units have been attacked under Section 49(1) which categorically says that nothing contained in that section shall apply to “any modifications of any Central government Act or any rules or regulations made there under or any notification or order issued or direction given or scheme made there under so far as such modification, rule, regulation, notification, order or direction or scheme relates to the matters relating to trade unions, industrial and labor disputes, welfare of labor including conditions of work, provident funds, employers’ liability, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pension and maternity benefits applicable in any Special Economic Zones.” This is completely unacceptable. Many of the workers are contract laborers supplied to the companies by recruiting agencies operating in the villages, which are as far as 60kms from the main units. Females who are unmarried are preferred in the age group of 18 to 30 years, even lesser sometimes, for better productivity and efficiency. Short term contracts are made, so that they can be hired or fired at will. Most do not even make more than 30-70 Rs per day. They are made to work 10-12 hours without taking lunch or toilet break sometimes. Management keeps on increasing the work quota, and if unable to finish that on time sometimes identity cards are snatched which makes them unable to give attendance. Pregnant ladies are also not spared from these torturous practices.

According to Padmini Swaminathan, director, Madras Institute of Development Studies, “the women suffered from frequent headaches due to tension and intense concentration at work, acute back pain, joint pains, swelling in the legs, severe abdominal pains, and various types of allergies, skin ailments, and piles (the result of sitting in the same position for hours on end)”. Respiratory disorders like asthma, pertinent cough and breathlessness are seen to be persistent.

Land Acquisition:

India has ample land by the looks of it, however, initially when the plan was conceived it was told that SEZs will be made on non-agricultural or so called semi-agricultural or barren lands. Land is required for farming, land is required for shelter and domestic purposes and land is again required for the economic development of the country in the form of SEZ. But if a question comes as to which amongst these three is most competent than the rest, then we all know the unanimous answer. The disharmony may arise when the decision of the government regarding the same may not match with that of the involved individuals.

Land grabbing policy by duping poor uneducated farmers have become the trend, by SEZ makers and real estate giant developers. Moreover those who were promised to be given jobs in the factories, and units, have only given minimal monetary compensation, as running factories require skilled labors where most farmers are unskilled in factory dos and don’ts. This has resulted in farmers committing suicides in a ratio like 10 farmers every day.

Environmental Issue:

Industry has to use natural resources at a huge scale to provide and sustain its units. However over utilization, reckless operation, no regards for maintaining ecological balance etc. adversely affects the ecological balance in the concerned area. The SEZ units by practice are exempted from Environmental Impact Analysis which is under taken by the provision of the Environment (Protection) Act India. Moreover, the entrepreneurs want more and more relaxation in the environmental norms, and issues which comes in their way, and which the previous and present government is in the way of granting in the name of economic growth of country.

Pollution, drinking water problem, sewerage issues, death in livestock due to dearth of water and adequate fodder, skin diseases, and other health hazards is widely attributed to the irrational construction of SEZ’s.

Indian SEZs have created over 840,000 jobs as of 2010-11, but still critics have pointed out, that it has not the ones who gave up on their land and resources, and still live inhuman, sorry life, denied worker rights, and what was once conceived to be shining economic zones, totaling INR 2.2 Trillion in 2009-10, has eventually resulted in exploitation zones for the poor.