Exactly a week ago, I visited MIHAN near Nagpur. I thought Mihan was the name of the area. But no, it stands for Multi Modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur. I’d heard of the project and read about it some time back, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. I’m still finding out the facts and details but because what I saw shocked me so much, I was overcome with an urge to write immediately.
What I’ve learnt so far is that this Rs. 2, 581 crore project is being promoted by the state-sponsored Maharashtra Airport Development Company (MADC). Under Mihan, the MADC will acquire a total of 4,354 hectares (ha), of which 1,278 ha have apparently been earmarked for the airport, and 2,086 ha for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). This includes 500 ha for IT parks, 955 ha for manufacturing units, 60 ha for a “health city” and 200 ha for a rail-cum-road terminal.
I read that companies that have already booked land in MIHAN, include Satyam Computer Services Ltd., Shapoorji Pallonji and Co., Infocity, Larsen and Toubro, and DLF. The proposed Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) depot of the aviation company Boeing is a part of the MIHAN SEZ, and is claimed to be the largest ongoing project in the country.
Some sources claim that around 2468 hectares of land have already been acquired. Satyam – the collapsed company currently in the heart of the country’s greatest corporate scandal – has been given rights over a large pond in the Mihan area. The water body is the source of livelihood for over 140 families who catch and sell fish from the pond. With the transfer of ownership and use rights, the families would lose their livelihoods. And what a dead company would do with a large pond in the middle of an SEZ is anybody’s guess. Probably set up water park facilities for the children of the families who move into the IT city. Water sports for the rich over food and survival of the working class. That’s the kind of choice today’s prevalent paradigm favours.
Across the corporate world and most of the upper middle class, SEZ spells success, “development,” national pride… but for most people there’s no such splendour in the term. Visit any SEZ site, study its land acquisition history, speak to the displaced people and you’ll see the ugly truth. Visit MIHAN and you’ll immediately associate SEZ with devastation, improbability, disbelief, horror, anger, and a deep disgust over what our governments peddle as “development.” There’s much written on the bane of land usurpation, unemployment, and destruction of livelihoods in the wake of SEZs. I don’t want to talk about that now. But MIHAN is outrageous.
The visit has left me shaken. I’ve seen much suffering and despair around the world. Working in the human rights field, one is overcome with stories of depression, tragedy, violation, on a daily basis. Some assume that being fed a daily diet of such injustice, makes you “strong” and impervious to grief. Quite the contrary.
Seven entire villages in the MIHAN area have already been completely wiped out, with not a vestige of remembrance left. Not even an earthquake obliterates so effectively. Why would machines be chosen to destroy living communities so completely? Why would anyone choose concrete over contentment, planes over people, fuel over food, golf courses over agricultural fields, hangers over homes?
Homes bulldozed, farms annihilated, communities crushed, lifestyles anesthetized, false dreams sold and shattered subsequently, and people flung into poverty. The cold calculating corporate and state collusion uses force and fear to usurp land from subsistence farmers. Sold dreams of employment and high cash liquidity, some succumb, only to soon learn that they were badly duped. That the market rate of land is up to Rs. 1 – 4 crores an acre while they were paid a pittance of just one lakh per acre. That jobs are being given to contractual labour from other states instead of to them, that cash disappears rapidly, that there is no rehabilitation, that food is scarce, that it’s impossible to buy a home or restart their lives elsewhere with the meagre compensation.
Hard to imagine that on this vast expanse of dry dusty land were fields and fruit trees and community centres and cattle sheds and people’s homes and meeting places where they wove tapestries of togetherness.
For some, MIHAN implies potential growth and a huge boom of investment. Far fetched plans for an airport with 300 flights daily. Visions of transforming Nagpur from the centre of India to the centre of the world. An important node connecting Asia to Europe. But it’s a project built on improbability. A capitalist nightmare. Thousands of hectares of land forcefully acquired and being built on, though most of it still lies barren and desolate. As if mourning the loss of laughter of the children that played there. And many more hectares, almost 2000, still to be acquired. Twenty-two villages to be destroyed in total. Fifteen more villages to go.
The women of Telara village – one of the villages to be “sacrificed” for this project – are distraught. It wasn’t just one or two women, but all the women who came up to speak with me were crying. All their eyes held an earnest desperation. A grandmother clutches her little grand daughter close to her and asks me, “How will we feed and educate her if we’re forced to leave from here? Where will we go?” A young mother weeps, “Ask the government to bomb our villages and us. But tell them not to take away our lands. Give us poison to drink but don’t make us move from here. Save us. Please, didi, save us.” I don’t know what to say to them. I have no solutions, no answers, no false promises to make. Struggling to hold back my own tears, my voice quivering, I just take her hands in my own and press them hard. “Don’t give up. I’m with you in your struggle. I’ll pray for you. I don’t know what I can do… But i’ll try…. ”
I slowly walk back to the car, my heart heavy, my footsteps slow, my eyes brimful. And as we drive away, i break down. It’s an intense outburst of tears. Will i ever come back here again? Will this village still be here? Will anyone really be able to save the people of Telara? What can i do? How do i meet their expectations?
The people in the car with me tell me i must be strong. What does that mean? I don’t know. Does crying mean i’m weak? Does feeling the pain of other women mean i’m not strong? Does expressing grief and despair and anger at the insensitivity of the government and the calculated machinations of these companies, classify me as emotional and weak? In that case i guess i don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to be so strong that i can’t feel the pain of others anymore. I don’t want to be so strong that i’m not touched by the feelings of those around me.
Where does profit derive its value from? And who really benefits? At what cost?
How can anything be worth this calculated destruction of a community, a lifestyle, a life? How can any government claim to be for the people when it violates their human rights and discriminates against them? How can any shareholder invest in a company that destroys lives to build infrastructure? How can anyone call this development? And how can we allow this to go on? How?
For more details on the MIHAN project, read: