Rajya Sabha

June 27, 2019

Derek O’Brien speaks on The Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Derek O’Brien speaks on The Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019


Sir, before I get to the content of the Bill, just two observations on the way we are still doing legislation. There was a tradition here in Parliament that if ten Bills were passed, one was an Ordinance. That was the score in the first 30 years of our country. In the second 30 years, the score was that out of every 10 Bills passed, about two were Ordinances. But in the last three or four years, out of every 10 Bills passed, four were Ordinances. This quick-fix Ordinance route is not a good solution. So through you, Sir, I would appeal to this government that don’t keep using this Ordinance route, otherwise, you cry ‘wolf wolf wolf’’, you try to pass everything like that.

The second point is on the scrutiny of the Bills. It is not enough to say that this Bill is changing or adding only one word, so it’s a simple Bill, so we don’t need to scrutinise it. We used to scrutinise Bills in earlier Parliaments. The average in the last 60 to 65 years was 70 to 72 per cent. In the last five years, the scrutiny of Bills by parliamentary committees is down to 25 per cent. Sir, you are the custodian of this House, so you must help us to protect this.   

As it is, the standing committees which came in since 1993 are semi-toothless because unlike many established conventions in other countries, for whatever reason, we don’t allow ministers to be asked questions on standing committees, and so the bureaucrats have to come. I’m not suggesting that the ministers should come but at least take the standing committee seriously. The logic of saying that it is one-line Bill is this: ‘India, that is, Bharat, is a union of States’; now you change one word there and say, ‘India, that is, Bharat, is not a union of States’. With a three-letter word you change the whole concept. So I don’t want us to be discussing the content of the Bill as to the word.

Let’s come to the Bill itself. First, I want to use this opportunity to wish the former leader of the House, Mr Arun Jaitley a quick recovery because it was he who piloted the Bill as Commerce Minister, and then Vajpayee ji was in charge. The Trinamool Congress has got a very clear view on this, that we are opposed to the policy of SEZ. It has always been in our Manifesto and Mamata Di has fought for this for many, many years.

Arun Jaitley ji brought it, and one of the reasons for bringing it was to compete with China. Then there were infrastructure issues, power – the current minister is also the Power Minister, he says there is no power supply. These were the original reasons for bringing the Bill and that was not the argument we bought into. But then you need infrastructure, you need power surplus. So in that first SEZ, which was in Mumbai, the number of jobs that were generated was not even one. It was nothing but a flop show.

Then we came into the Dr Manmohon Singh’s Government and what happened was from a flop show it became a land scam show. Land was being acquired left, right and centre. Trinamool Congress said that in their Manifesto. We repeatedly expressed our serious apprehension and disagreement on SEZ and our voices were not heard and the mistake on this continues to be made.

Today most people would agree that SEZs have failed the nation and it has become a tool in the hands of few vested interests and the land mafia. I am going to read a few lines from some other Manifesto. This is the history of the NDA and then the UPA and now another Manifesto from 2009.

I quote: “The UPA Government has approved 572 Special Economic Zones that cover 50,000 acres, three times the size of Singapore. We will not allow the conversion of fertile farm land for industrial commercial projects or Special Economic Zones.”

This was the BJP manifesto in 2009. So what they say depends on where they sit.

এই যে জমি অধিগ্রহণ, এর বিরুদ্ধে আন্দোলনে সবচেয়ে এগিয়ে মমতা বন্দ্যোপাধ্যায়। আপনারা সবাই জানেন নন্দীগ্রাম, সিঙ্গুরে কত জমি আন্দোলন হয়েছে। ২০০৬ সালে ২৬ দিনের অনশন মমতাদি করেছেন, কেন করেছে, যাতে কৃষিজমি কেউ ছিনতাই করে নিয়ে নিতে পারবে না। এইটাই হল concept. তার পরে কী হয়েছে? Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 পাশ হয়েছে বাংলার বিধানসভায়।

So all this has happened Sir. Finally Supreme Court of India termed the land aquisition agreement in Singur illegal and unconstitutional. Sir, this is one party in India, one leader in India, who has had a consistent stand from the time we have started our party in 1998 to now, that you cannot forcibly acquire land. For this, you might say why are you so anti-industry? Sir, we are not anti-industry. Our belief is industry and agriculture can co-exist, Sir, and that has been the basis of the policies. 

Special Economic Zones haven’t worked, even if you look at the job numbers besides all these land scams. In answer to a Question by my colleague, Sukendu Sekhar Ray in the Rajya Sabha, the numbers were given of these Special Economic Zones and the jobs lost. Here we go, am not going into the details of the jobs lost but the few jobs that were generated, because the basis of the Special Economic Zones, the bottom line was to generate jobs. If you look at the numbers even get worse after demonetisation. At least it was two lakh; one lakh before that. Those numbers have since dropped. Sir, the non-functioning SEZs – the numbers are also available. There are so many study reports, which are all available in the public domain – that the SEZs haven’t worked.  

Sir, let us come to the trusts. Trust means who? I don’t want to play on the words because my colleague from the Congress party has done a great job on the words. But Sir, there are serious issues. Are these also religious trusts? Which company today, which large corporation today runs on a trust? Nobody is on trust. They are on public liberty companies etc. Now when you say trust, the only big brand I know at least in my limited knowledge of trust, pata nahi if there are any others, but Patanjali is a trust. I mean one example (all of you will come up with different examples). What is this trust? Are we now talking about religious trusts, because big corporations don’t need trusts.

Sir, Jharkhand is sadly in the news now. Sometimes we get some responses, sometimes. In February, in Jharkhand, the first stand alone power project in India, SEZ, was given to Adani. The project will save the company Rs 3.2 billion annually. Why was it chosen? What is the criteria? That Sir, we need to look into.

I want to conclude now, Sir. This is not on a SEZ issue, this is a land issue, that’s the core of this issue.

রবীন্দ্রনাথ লিখেছেন:

শুধু বিঘে দুই ছিল মোর ভুঁই আর সবই গেছে ঋণে।

বাবু বলিলেন, ‘বুঝেছ উপেন, এ জমি লইব কিনে।’

কহিলাম আমি,  তুমি ভূস্বামী, ভূমির অন্ত নাই।

চেয়ে দেখো মোর আছে বড়ো-জোর মরিবার মতো ঠাঁই।

Sir, this is a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore portraying the class struggle. The basic concept here is that he described class divide and the forceful land grabbing by a zamindar from a poor peasant. And, Bimal Roy, another great Bengali, in 1953 made the film ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ based on this poem.

Sir, this is not the kind of legislation. This is opaque and Trinamool Congress, even if we are the only people standing here, we will oppose SEZ, we will oppose SEZ, we will oppose SEZ. 

Thank you.