PEN/ MUMBAI: The 2005 approval for Reliance's proposed Special Economic Zone in Pen taluka of Raigad district in Maharashtra had created quite a stir in the state. The local farmers staunchly opposed the project. So fiercely they fought against the project, that the company had to back out and shut it down.

The Centre had approved Reliance’s SEZ of about 34 thousand hectare — the biggest in the country — in 45 villages in Pen, Uran, and Panvel tehsils of Raigad district. At that time, the farmes had no clue even as to what the term 'SEZ' meant. All they knew was that some company would come by and they would have to give their lands away to it. But when they realised what it was, what they would benefit and what they would lose out of this project, the farmers decided it was time to stand up against the project and protect what was rightfully theirs. And thus began the agitation against Reliance SEZ in Raigad district.

Support of social workers
Social workers in Raigad district took up this cause, but they had to begin with fighting their own people, awakening them to the cause. When the government felt opposition to the project by local farmers, they gathered some of their own men in these lands to break this movement. Thus, parallel movements by/for the government, company and locals started in the district. Social workers like ND Patil of the Shetkari Kamgar Paksha, Alka Mahajan, Vaishali Patil, Surekha Dalvi among others were in the forefront, guiding the farmer movement properly against the proposed SEZ project.

Tactics of the Government
According to the Land Acquisition Act, land that is fertile cannot be utilised or acquired for any project other than agriculture. The land that Reliance was asking for, farmers argued, helped produce almost 50 per cent of the total rice produced in the state. What's more, is that the farmers here live a content life by growing foodgrains for their own use too. For ay additional income, these farmers also indulge in fishing if necessary. But despite having a good produce coming from these fields, the government declared these lands as non-fertile and tried to bring the land under the Land Acquisition Act. If that was not enough, the government also ignored the proposal to provide dam water to these villages, afraid that this availability of water will make this land fertile for use throughout the year; leading the state to cancel the SEZ project.

Over 50 such agitations
There were over fifty such anti-SEZ movements in Raigad district. The agitation spilled onto the roads. And despite the fear of this movement becoming violent, this movement was carried out smoothly and strongly. The movement against SEZ saw both men and women joining in the protests. The movement grew. Not only by number, but by resolve too. Such was their resolve that the government had to give in and cancel the MahaMumbai SEZ project to Reliance.

This is considered a historic win of the people in the post-British era. Two major changes - one, the government had to make amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, and two, this non-violent movement proved that the fight for one's rights can won without spilling any blood with dedication and the will to achieve what is rightfully yours.

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