It was in August 2001 that the idea of establishing a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ), from the forest tracts of Adilabad (Andhra Pradesh) to Nepal, traversing the forest areas of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, was conceptualized at Siliguri in a high-level meeting of the Maoist leaders from India and Nepal. The primary aim of CRZ is to facilitate the easy movement of extremists from one area in the proposed zone to another. The concept of CRZ was essentially seen as a prologue to the further expansion of Left-wing extremism in the subcontinent. Looked from this angle, the notion of CRZ seems to be moving in the right direction, for, there has been a remarkable Maoist growth between 2001 and 2007 in both India and Nepal. As of now, while the Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist (CPN-M) has joined the interim Government of Nepal, their Maoist counterparts in India have carved out several guerilla zones in different parts of the country. What was once an utopian concept, the idea and reality of CRZ in India has indeed made big strides.
While the Maoists were busy executing their mega plan of CRZ, the economic policy of India marked a dramatic shift with the Government of India announcing the setting up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in its Export-Import Policy 2000. As per the SEZ Act 2005, SEZs are geographical regions that have different economic laws to the rest of the country to facilitate increased investments and economic activity. The politics engulfing the whole issue of SEZs has definitely acquired a Maoist flavor, as can be clearly ascertained from the happenings of Kalinga Nagar, Singur and Nandigram. Recent happenings on the SEZs front shows that the idea of SEZs, which was originally formulated as a development strategy, has now become a rallying cry for Left-wing extremism.
Couple of months back, during their ninth unity congress, the top ranking Maoist leadership from 16 Indian states decided to launch violent attacks on SEZs and projects that displace people. The Annual Report of the "Central Military Commission" of the Communist Party of India- Maoist (CPI-Maoist) outlines the Naxal plan of creating disruptions at several proposed infrastructure and mining projects and steel plants. The potential Naxal targets as mentioned in the report are the bauxite mining project of the Jindals in Visakhapatnam, the Polavaram irrigation project, steel plants proposed in Chhattisgarh by Tata, Essar and Jindal, the Centre's proposed railway line on the Rajhara-Raighat-Jagdalpur sector, Posco's steel plants under construction in Orissa, power plants proposed by the Ambanis, a proposed steel plant in Jharkhand by the Mittal Group and the Kosi irrigation project in northern Bihar.
The Naxal concept of CRZ and their brand of politics over the issue of SEZs is something which needs to be taken seriously. The Naxal intentions are clear; they want to use SEZs as the most powerful weapon for the complete realization of CRZ. The link between the Naxal concept of CRZ and the new development mantra of SEZs is no coincident. The Naxals have grown stronger in the tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Maharashtra, which attracts US$85 billion of promised investments, mostly in steel and iron plants, and mining projects. Ironically, all these investments and projects are of no benefit to the locals, and in most of the cases, in the absence of a credible 'Rehabilitation and Resettlement' (R&R) policy, the locals are forced to loose their lands which are crucial for their survival. The Naxals have been quick to realize this and reflect it in their agenda.
After the sad happenings of Nandigram, the Union Government was forced to take stock of the issues related to SEZs. Recently, after including a few changes in the SEZ Act, the Central Government's Empowered Group of Ministers on SEZs approved 83 new proposals in addition to the already notified 63 projects. The head of the government has already declared that SEZs is a reality. SEZs in itself is not a bad idea, but the problem lies with its poor implementation. 'Rehabilitation and Resettlement' holds the key to the successful realization of SEZs in India. Government need to show that SEZs as a development strategy would result in equitable distribution of its gains.
There is no denying that India is growing but certain sections are being continuously denied a share in this growth. Except for symbolic tokenism, such as the Employment Guarantee Scheme, the fundamentals of delivery are missing from most of the plans and projects. It is this tokenism that has given an opportunity to the Naxals to hijack the issue of SEZs in their favor. Today, the Naxals have realized that the Spring Thunder of 1968 failed to give the desired results owing to wide differences in Indian and Chinese conditions. Accordingly, they have reformulated their premises of Maoism. Unfortunately, the government is taking too long to realize that though its SEZs policy is based on the Chinese model, its success would depend a lot on its application to Indian conditions.