Narendra Modi - friend or enemy of 100 million indian farmers ?
FORBES ASIA has copies of the agreements that show he got the 30-year, renewable leases for as little as one U.S. cent a square meter. He in turn has sublet this land to other companies, including state-owned Indian Oil Co., for as much as $11 a square meter.
Between 2005 and 2007 at least 1,200 hectares of grazing land was taken away from villagers.
Anand Yagnik, a lawyer representing some of the Mundra villagers, says, “The basic philosophy of a liberal economy is to allow market forces to play its role. Then why do you have to allocate scarce resources to industrial houses at throwaway prices when they have sufficient capital to pay market rates?”
When his son was married in the coastal state of Goa last year, Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s guest list included the richest man in the country and many a chief executive and top banker and bureaucrat. Most, however, just stopped by the night before to bless the happy couple and skipped the actual wedding. But one prominent friend stayed through all the ceremonies over a couple of days, genial and relaxed like a favorite uncle. It was Narendra Modi, chief minister of Adani’s home state of Gujarat.
Ranked No. 609 in the world with an estimated worth of $2.8 billion, Adaniruns India’s largest port, a power company and a commodities trading business. A large chunk of his business is located in Gujarat, and the government under Modi, who has been running the state since 2001 and now is the favored prime ministerial candidate in the national elections this spring, has been more generous to Adani than to any other industrialist there.
Adani has, over the years, leased 7,350 hectares–much of which he got from 2005 onward–from the government in an area called Mundra in the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. FORBES ASIA has copies of the agreements that show he got the 30-year, renewable leases for as little as one U.S. cent a square meter (the rate maxed out at 45 cents a square meter). He in turn has sublet this land to other companies, including state-owned Indian Oil Co., for as much as $11 a square meter. Between 2005 and 2007 at least 1,200 hectares of grazing land was taken away from villagers.
At a political rally in distant Lucknow in early March, Modi said farmers were his friends and he would stand by them. He also said he would “not allow anyone to loot the exchequer.”
But spend time around the villages of Kutch and a vastly different picture appears. This region was famous for its crops of sapodilla, a brown, fleshy fruit slightly smaller than a tennis ball, as well as dates, coconuts and castor. Area farmers say that that’s no longer the case. (Official stats seem to end in 2006.) Fly ash and saline water from Adani Power and a nearby Tata Power Co. Ltd. plant are spoiling the crops and making the soil less fertile, they say. For miles at a stretch the chimneys of the two power plants are visible against the horizon. Gajendra Sinh Jadeja, the 28-year-old head of Navinal village, says the Gujarat government took some 930,770 square meters of his village’s grazing land for Adani’s SEZ. Adani got it for 19 cents a square meter
The village of Zarapara with its 15,000 residents is one of the largest in the area. When the government gave away some of its grazing land to the Adani SEZ, at roughly 19 cents a square meter, the villagers filed a case in the Gujarat High Court, one of several similar cases filed by residents of other villages. The court in the summer of 2011 ordered the government and Adani to replace that land for the villagers but nothing has happened so far.
Ghadavi, 30, blames the decrease in output on the saline water and the fly ash from the Adani power plant that has polluted the groundwater tables and broken the pollination process. Pointing to his white shirt, the small, wiry man says, “Earlier our clothes used to turn yellow [from the pollen]. Now when the morning dew drips from the tree leaves, the ground turns black from the fly ash.”
The villagers’ lawyer Yagnik argues that Modi, by giving away land so cheaply, is depriving the state treasury of funds. “This kind of subsidization of scarce resources eats away at the public exchequer, and that has a direct impact on distributive justice because then the state doesn’t have enough resources to deal with this inequality,” he says.
After years of receiving complaints of environmental abuse, the federal environment ministry finally, in 2012, named a panel–known as the Sunita Narain Committee after the woman chairing the process–to look into them.
In a report last April Narain’s group confirmed the villagers’ complaints–and fears. It said the Adani SEZ had violated multiple green rules at different points of its mammoth project–destroying mangroves, filling creeks and causing land and water degradation by dumping fly ash.
At the power plant thousands of gallons of water sucked in from the sea through one channel are let out through a pipeline. Once sucked in it’s kept in a reservoir from where it’s pumped into the turbines to generate electricity and eventually is pumped back out.
But almost a year after the recommendations were made the company appears to have done nothing. Meantime, it has plans to expand its 7,350-hectare SEZ to 18,000 hectares.
In an e-mailed response to questions, a spokeswoman for Adani Group said it had been allotted government land after following all established processes and used valuations applicable at the time, ahead of subsequent improvements. “It will be completely misleading if we compare the price of the land before development and after development as an entrepreneur takes risk of investing a large amount to develop this land, and if the commercial venture fails, the consequences are only to the developer,” the company said.
Adani Group said salinity ingress was a local phenomenon and that its power plant used technology to ensure that there was no stray fly ash. It also refuted the observations of the Sunita Narain committee and said while any large development would affect the environment, it was certain that its net impact was positive. Also, all government requirements were followed in setting up its various projects.
Credit: Megha Bahree
In Kutch fishermen and their families set up camp on the beach. Tagadi fishing village is one such camp on the banks of what is now the Tata plant’s outflow channel. Dawood Umar Jaam, 43, has been fishing in the area for the past five years. He has seen a 60% drop in his catch in the last few months and blames it on the plant. As the plant takes in seawater, it also sucks up fish that are still small, killing them instantly, says a fishermen’s trade union known as MASS, active in the area. The plant releases hot water back into the sea, raising temperatures in the immediate vicinity, killing more fish and changing migratory patterns.