His smirk and smile have been growing in direct proportion to the rising crescendo of farmer protests in various parts of the country over land acquisition. Modi never tires of pointing out that Gujarat was the first to pass the SEZ Act in 2004. And except for an isolated stir in Por in Vadodara district by farmers, the state has seen no protests.
This is mainly because Modi's port-led development has transformed the otherwise neglected coastal areas—huge stretches of which face acute problems of salinity—into focal centres of activity. This is more than welcome in areas like Kutch or the Saurashtra coast where there are no takers for the arid land.
Take the case of Mundra in Kutch where an SEZ is slated to come up near the Adani Port. This was a barren, dry, coastal belt virtually declared unfit for human habitation. The fully functional port and the proposed SEZ have changed the face of the area. A 1,700 sq yard plot in the zero point area leading to the Adani township was recently sold for Rs 90 lakh. A few years ago, Rs 1-2 lakh would have been considered a bonanza for the same land.
Another reason why setting up SEZs have been trouble-free is because the government has left it to the promoters to purchase the land directly from farmers. So, the farmer can demand market price for his property and not settle for the lower prices offered by the state when it acquires land.
The only vocal movement against SEZs has been in Vadodara. Over 150 farmers from five villages around Por are up in arms over attempts to acquire their land for a proposed SEZ. The farmers have formed an action committee, approached the National Human Rights Commission as well as written to the President. Meanwhile, Gandhinagar is concerned over the Centre's decision to put on hold any fresh clearances for SEZs. Of the 33 SEZs approved in Gujarat, only 18 have been notified. The rest will simply have to wait for the Centre's green signal.