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! The long-drawn struggle of farmers of Raigad for protecting their land from the hands of powerful corporate Reliance is over and farmers have won the battle. First a legal battle in Supreme Court and then the public referendum 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. Call it a revolution or a historical achievement by the farmers of Raigad ! Mukesh Ambani, not just the richest but also arguably the most powerful and influential Indian industrialist, has faced a huge setback and embarrassment 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 at Raigad near Mumbai. However, the dream has shattered. The state government last week ended its land acquisition process for the proposed Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone, giving a major jolt to one of the country�s biggest SEZ plans. The state issued a government resolution de-notifying the land acquisition process for the SEZ, clearly indicating that it would not acquire any more land for the SEZ promoted by Reliance Industries Group Chairman Mukesh Ambani. All land acquired by the government in the past is also to be returned. On hearing news of the government�s resolution, farmers in the Pen, Panvel and Uran talukas burst crackers in celebration. We met one of the social activists of the movement Ulka Mahajan who has been instrumental for this victory. The activist says that farmers of the 32 villages being eyed by Reliance did not think of their land as a commodity. Ulka Mahajan recalls the early days of the struggle and said that when Reliance could not buy villagers, they asked the state to play the role of land agents. The long drawn battle was not easy. Reliance tried every dirty 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. She recalls how even the state officials had played the role of agents of Reliance in the battle. It was only after N D Patil sat on a hunger strike that the state backed out and came up with the idea of a referendum � that is a procedure to get the public opinion on a state decision based on votes. However, the results of the referendum proved to be a huge embarrassment for the state as the farmers unanimously voted against land acquisition for SEZ. Perhaps that�s why the state has not made the results of the referendum public even today. With the victory against Mukesh Ambani led Reliance, farmers in Raigad have created history. The farmers have set a precedent and sent out a message to selfish and greedy corporate sector that they will not allow land grab and those ruling the corridors of power should remember that the agriculture sector is the foundation of the nation. She said that the poor have shown that you cannot enforce dictatorial decisions on them in a democracy. Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Industries have been made to bite the dust. Even with all the money that Mukesh Ambani had, he could not buy the integrity of the farmers of Raigad for whom their land is no less than their mother. There is no denying that the farmers of Raigad have written an inspiring story of commitment, dedication and unity that will give hope and encouragement to farmers across the nation who are battling against land grab in the name of SEZ and other infra development projects. With Monika Bhosale, Sana Warsia for NMTV News. .
March 5, 2008