Doctoral student Preeti Sampat (City University of New York), under the guidance of Dr. David Harvey, will undertake anthropological research on the genesis, enactment and implementation of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) Act 2005 in India. Set-aside or enclave economic zones, which provide signficant national and international investment opportunities, are now a ubiquitous tool of economic growth throughout the developing world. While the Indian SEZ Act was approved by the Indian parliament with complete consensus among all political parties, SEZs soon became the subject of disruptive contestation over land and resources between developers, the government, and citizen and peasant groups. Thus this research is important for the contribution it will make to understanding local-level consequences of such zones and possible ways that their implementation may be improved to better benefit all concerned.

Sampat will conduct research in multiple sites in India. She will employ a combination of ethnographic methods including in-depth interviews, life histories interviews, participant observation, and archival research. She will explore claims around SEZs made by various key actors, such as developers, politicians, bureaucrats, and citizen and peasant organizations. She will focus in particular on the genesis and implementation of the SEZ Act 2005, the emergent jurisprudence around the SEZ law and the right to land and resources, and the implementation of SEZs and resistance to them in two sites.

Findings from this research will contribute to theorizing the changing political economy of land and resources, law-making processes, and democratic practices in the context of a formerly closed economy that has increased its international economic engagement significantly over the past two decades. The study also will further analyses of contemporary social movements and their implications for democracy and citizenship, and of export-oriented enclave economies as central loci of complex local and global processes. Funding this research also supports the education of a graduate student.

Project Report

The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act 2005 was approved in both houses of the Parliament of India in two days amid total political consensus. In less than two years however, intense conflicts over land and resources erupted in SEZ areas across the country between corporate developers, the state and peasant and citizens groups. The federal and state governments designated SEZs as 'public purpose' and attempted to forcibly acquire land and resources from peasants and other residents using the power of eminent domain. The transfer of land and resources to corporate developers in what was perceived as the conflation of public purpose with private (corporate) interest was fiercely resisted; peasants and citizens groups organized protests, petitions and legal challenges and prevented officials and developers from entering designated lands. The (federal) Government of India (GoI) and state governments responded variously with violent repression, tactical reversal, negotiation and deference. In the ensuing furor, in 2008 Goa state unprecedentedly revoked its SEZ policy, suspending 13 SEZs, some with construction underway. As the GoI declined to honor this decision in the case of three SEZs where construction had begun, the Chief Minister of the state announced that SEZ developers in Goa could go ahead 'at their own risk.' In SEZ lands near Verna, Loutolim and Kerim villages of the state where construction had begun, villagers stormed SEZ sites and threw out construction crews; in Kerim, dhangars (cattle-rearing community) now graze cattle over SEZ lands. Amid raging debates and accusations of corrupt real estate deals between the state and developers, the GoI issued directives to all state governments in 2008 that no land should be forcibly acquired for SEZs and unsuccessfully attempted to draft new land acquisition policy to replace the extant (and colonial) Land Acquisition Act 1894 in 2007 and again in 2011. But proposed legislation expands the scope of forcible acquisition, including private investment in 'infrastructure development' as public purpose; and SEZs are officially considered infrastructure projects. That the conflation of public purpose with private interest occurs in the fullness of over two decades of economic liberalization reforms is key to the dynamic of struggles over land and resources in India today. This ethnographic and archival study of SEZs examines the policy genesis and evolution of SEZs in India; the successful peasant and citizen resistance to them in Goa; and emergent jurisprudence around SEZs, infrastructure projects and the right to land and resources in the country. It analyzes contemporary capital accumulation processes, development policy, property relations, social movements and negotiations of citizenship and the state refashioning the 'rule of law' in India's 'liberalizing' democracy. Research papers and articles have emerged from the study and the dissertation will be a major outcome. I have also presented my d=findings in various conferences in India and the US. The borader impact of the study is on legal and policy studies and the anthropology of land rights, social movements, democracy, state, development and capital accumulation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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CUNY Graduate School University Center
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