A Nandigram in Karnataka

- N Divakar

The recolonization  of India is slowly but surely gaining ground as the days pass by, with the Central and state governments hell bent on establishing Special Economic Zones( SEZ), a new form of foreign enclaves on Indian soil. The era of globalization has seen Karnataka, particularly Bangalore as a hub of Electronic revolution and now SEZ occupying the centre stage of new economic policy.

Nandagudi is a hobli (cluster of panchayats) with 36 villages and a population of around 50000 just 50 kms from Bangalore and is considered as one of the fertile areas of the region, with a good irrigation facility for more than 80% of land, a rare feature in this region. With around 21000 farmers engaged in farming, the major crop here is Silk i.e., Mulberry. Kolar district being the nerve centre of Silk business in Karnataka, Nandagudi, though it comes under Bangalore district, is very near to Kolar and Chintamani, another silk growing centre. Apart from silk Nandagudi is a major producer of milk in the region and a major supplier of vegetables to Bangalore and surrounding towns. The total turnover of agricultural production in this region is more than Rs 10 lakhs per day.

It is in this region that the government of Karnataka wants to establish a mega multi-product SEZ promoted by Skil Infrastructure, which has attained notoriety in Navi Mumbai, where it has failed to execute a project and sold the same to Reliance. It is proposed to invest Rs 15000 crores on 12350 acres of land in 36 villages out of which 4745 acres are with the government and 7605 acres are to be acquired from the farmers. The Bangalore Water supply and Sewerage board and Forest and Environment department have refused to give ‘no objection’ certificates for the project citing certain inadequacies.

Nandagudi being close to the new International Airport at Devanahalli, has seen land prices zoom during the past several years and the present cost of an acre of land would be around Rs. 50 lakhs. Even in some neighbouring areas the cost of an acre has touched one crore. It is this real estate boom, which has encouraged the government of Karnataka to get the SEZ approved, despite protests by the local farmers and the common masses. More than 80% of the people in Nandagudi are engaged in agriculture and an SEZ would make them run for their lives as they have no other means.

The Chief Minister Kumarswamy is playing a clever game by stating that the government would not acquire agricultural land for the SEZ, meaning thereby, it is the corporate interests who would decide the acquisition of land. In other words, an open license is being issued to the corporate sector and the real estate mafia to acquire land at will and make fast money. The home minister M P Prakash cleverly says “The government has no role in this; it is a matter between purchasers and sellers”, thereby absolving the government of any responsibility of even compensation and rehabilitation.

The people of Nandagudi and Farmers’ Associations across the state are up in arms against the proposals and even the opposition Congress is opposing the SEZ, though for political reasons. Under the present coalition government of JDS and BJP, the real estate mafia has ruled the roost and the present proposal could be seen as an off-shoot of this mafia. The region between Bangalore and Kolar, is quite dry and rain fed and there are a few big farmers owning more than 10 acres. The rest are all small and marginal farmers. The crisis in agriculture and silk production has already taken much toll of the farmers of the region. Already the neighboring villages and towns have become real estate enclaves, with one acre costing more than Rs. 1 crore. An SEZ in Nandagudi would turn the fertile area into a graveyard.

Though the government is hell bent on establishing SEZ here, with the BOA already according approval, the people are resisting vehemently and have said a firm No to land acquisition. Left parties and democratic forces are forging alliance with the farmers’ associations to fight the evil designs of the government. The events at Nandigram, Singur and POSCO have given strength to the farmers and masses of the region to fight against the establishment of SEZ in the area. Nandagudi may well become the Nandigram of Karnataka and a flash point in peoples’ fight against the politics of SEZ.