Alibag, Kalinganagar, Kashipur, Polavaram, Nandigram, Singur, … have all been in the news in recent times for horrendous human rights violations by state forces. As a result state governments have ended up denying people their democratic rights which governments are meant to protect. The struggle at each of these sites has highlighted the strong opposition to displacement as a result of large industrialisation and infrastructure projects in the rural areas. The use of state force against these struggles has brought out the obduracy of the Indian state to pursue an undemocratic industrialisation agenda, in the face of any opposition. Many people have paid for their resistance, against the undemocratic character of the state, with their lives. This raises several important questions on the issue of industrialisation that need to be carefully addressed.
Historically, a nation cannot develop and grow without a strong industrial base. Industrialisation creates opportunities for higher economic growth, employment, provides cheaper wage-goods and also paves the way for national economic independence. The technical and economic backwardness of our country makes it imperative that there is a strong emphasis on industrialisation. However, for industrialisation to deliver its benefits it must be democratic, just and equitable. To put it another way, the overall net-benefit of industrialisation should always be in favour of the people, especially those directly affected by any industrial venture, and not in favour of capital, and the overall benefit should furthermore outweigh the losses that might occur to people due to unavoidable displacement and land acquisition. Otherwise we are going to build a society where inequalities widen; where the fruits of development are for a few, and at the cost of the rights and livelihood of many others; where an already struggling agricultural sector will be further impoverished, without any alternative means for a dignified life being created for those dependent on agriculture.
Thus NTUI believes that industrialisation is a necessity. The NTUI also believes that the creation of industrial zones may be necessary in less developed areas with an aim at industrialisation that not only creates new employment opportunities but also makes provisions for social benefits – housing, schools, medical facilities for the workers employed in these zones and the people living in the area. Tax exemptions and other incentives given to these units should be made subject to the conditionality of promotion of decent labour standards by these units. Labour rights should be an integral part of any legislation that promotes the process of industrialisation. A democratic industrialisation policy should take into consideration the democratic aspirations of all affected and concerned people. Democratic industrialisation must also lead to equitable growth amongst the states of the union rather than the present framework that forces state governments to compete with one another.
Recognition of all affected parties as stakeholders is a must for a program of democratic industrialisation. There has to be transparency in the process of industrial development, which addresses issues of displacement, impact on environment, and other social changes. These have to be balanced out against the benefits, in particular the direct benefits to the affected people. NTUI recognises that industrialisation initiatives and other development projects are a problem in as much as they take away land rights of people, and customary rights to use of natural resources. While we uphold the right to development, we also recognise the right of nations and peoples to define their own idea of development.
In the context, we also need to urgently stress a balance between agricultural development and industrial growth. Agriculture is still the largest absorber of labour in the country. It constitutes the basis for industrial development, both as a market that absorbs the products of industry and as a supplier of raw material and capital to industry.
However, current industrial policy on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) gives no importance to democratic industrialisation. It is solely motivated by a concern to attract capital at any cost. It forces states to compete with one another. Capital that in this age of globalisation demands absolute freedom from all fetters of regulation. There is a fundamental and hypocritical contradiction in a state policy that on the one hand uses its regulatory powers for land acquisition for SEZs, while on the other hand advocating weakening of all forms of state regulation in critical areas like labour and taxes within the jurisdiction of the SEZs.
NTUI is vigorously opposed to such an SEZ Act that takes away the rights of people to democracy and self-determination, and seeks only to strengthen the hands of capital to grow unchecked. It believes that a clearly defined and transparent legal framework and procedure should be institutionalised before large-scale industrialisation or other development projects are undertaken. The framework should make all potentially affected people an integral part of discussions and decisions on any industrialisation proposal, with a democratic right to be inherently involved in restructuring an industrial proposal that does not benefit them so that they may change it in order to avail of its benefits. Therefore the framework of industrialisation should be justiciable. To this end, it should also have a clearly defined rehabilitation mechanism, which is focussed in equal measures on asset and livelihood loss. We stress here that the history of development in India has also been a continuous saga of dispossessment of the lands and livelihood of crores of common people.
NTUI therefore strongly demands the repeal of the present SEZ Act 2005, and a stop to all current projects under the Act. It demands an integrated legislative framework for large industrial and infrastructure projects that takes into account:
- Democratic development of regions and people
- Integrated rehabilitation legislation and procedure that is justiciable
- Promotion of a self-reliant industrial base
- Creation of employment opportunities and promotion of high-employment Industry
- Promotion of Decent Labour Standards
- A justiciable framework for land acquisition