Farmers block highway to protest Raigad SEZ

June 18th, 2008 - 2:08 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai/Pen, June 18 (IANS) Over 2,000 farmers in Maharashtra’s Raigad district Tuesday blocked the Mumbai-Goa national highway to protest against land acquisition for the proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ) being developed by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance group. Led by former minister and Peasants and Workers Party leader N.D. Patil under the banner of Jagatikaran Virodhi Kriti Samiti (anti-globalization action committee), the farmers blockaded the busy highway at Vashi Naka near Vadkhal for about four hours during which the police had to resort to cane-charge.

Though the blockade did not lead to disruption of traffic on the highway as the police had diverted the traffic via other routes, tension mounted around the sit-in venue as the protesters refused to budge, necessitating a cane-charge, police inspector Ramesh Khade said.

The farmers, mainly from 22 villages in the district coming under the command area of the Hetavane irrigation project, were protesting a “breach of promise” by the government that their irrigated land would not be acquired for the 14,000 hectare SEZ, committee spokesperson Vaishali Patil told IANS.

“The promise was made by the state rehabilitation minister Patangrao Kadam after 15 representative farmers had resorted to an indefinite fast last July protesting the threatened acquisition of their irrigated land,” Patil said.

Relief and Rehabilitation Secretary V.V. Gaikwad told IANS that the “complicated” issue was with Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh for a final decision.

“The command area of the Hetavane project is getting shrunk as the dam water is being diverted to the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) and a few industries; this being the case, it is not certain how much land will remain under irrigation,” he explained.

Among those who led the protest, were Raigad district council president Neelima Patil and rehabilitation authority member Pratibha Shinde, Vaishali Patil said, adding that Shinde had raised the issue in the authority’s meeting.

The state government’s rehabilitation authority - Maharashtra is the only state in the country to have set up such an authority to oversee the rehabilitation of project affected people - has accepted the rehabilitation package submitted by the Reliance Group for the proposed SEZ.

Vaishali Patil, who has been spearheading the agitation against “the biggest SEZ in Asia” said, hundreds of farmers have submitted objections to the acquisition of their land.

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