Can you win a grassroots level agitation for your land against a person whose is worth a whopping Rs 196,000 Crore? Yes, you can! At least, in the first round of a long-drawn struggle, farmers of Raigad recently won a legal battle as the Supreme Court virtually signed the death-warrant of the ambitious 11,000-hectare Mumbai SEZ project of the Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd. Our weekend exclusive today narrates to you the story of how the farmers of Raigad won the battle for their life against India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. Nobody is dubbing it a revolution, but something radical has happened in Raigad. Mukesh Ambani, not just the richest but also arguably the most powerful Indian industrialist, has faced a setback due to ‘people’s power’. After taking over the Reliance legacy, Dhirubhai Ambani’s elder son Mukesh had dreamed of something really Himalayan in size. He dreamt of building a new mega city, port and Special Economic zone (SEZ) at Raigad near Mumbai. However, last month Reliance Industries promoter Mukesh Ambani’s plans for the Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone dealt a major blow, when the Supreme Court refused to agree to a plea for squashing the land acquisition process. Ulka Mahajan, one of the many leaders of the people’s movement spoke to us about how a grass-root level agitation of Raigad farmers won the battle of life against India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. According to India’s Land Acquisition Act, 1894, land needs to be acquired within three years from the date of the publication of a declaration to acquire property for any proposed project. And if no award is made within that time, the entire process for the acquisition of the land would lapse. The acquisition proceedings for the land in the case of Maha Mumbai SEZ were to have been completed by June 8, but seeing that it was failing to meet the deadline, Reliance sought for a stay on land acquisition to extend the deadline. But the Supreme Court refused to extend the deadline and also rejected the plea for a stay on the land acquisition proceedings. The three year long journey to this Supreme Court order was not easy. Reliance tried every trick in the book to lure farmers and buy their lands but leaders of the people’s movements kept the momentum going and ensured that farmers stayed united in the battle against India’s most powerful industrial giant. Leaders traveled from tehsil to tehsil in Raigad organizing such rallies to unite farmers to fight against Mukesh Ambani’s Maha Mumbai SEZ. These rallies gained momentum when the Collector announced the historic referendum to decide the fate of the proposed Special Economic Zone in Raigad. As the movement spread across Raigad, farmers became an awakened and enlightened lot knowing that the state had become an agent working for Reliance and against the interest of farmers. The land that Reliance wants is in and around the Pen, Panvel and Uran areas is the most fertile land in the district and is very close to Mumbai. Raigad district farmers do not want to part with their ancestral land because it is highly fertile and enjoys a rich cultural heritage. Unlike farmers in other parts of the state, farmers in Raigad are aggressive in nature, ready to give their life for their land. Ulka Mahajan recalls how Reliance tried to persuade some farmers, committee members and activists and tried to buy them out. But the core group had some veterans who have fought various struggles throughout their life and could not be bought over. The farmers of Raigad have won the first legal battle against India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani but the war is still not over. Tragedy is, at one point the nation was fighting for freedom against the British, today farmers across the nation and in Raigad are fighting a battle against their own people – a battle for their land, their life, their existence. With global warming and beyond human control natural calamities across India, it is time that all the rich, powerful and greedy bide under the rule of nature rather than grab land for commercial exploitation in the name of progress and development from the poor, needy and helpless. With cameraperson Abhay Prasad, Zeba Warsia for NMTV News.
October 2, 2016
May 19, 2019