In January and March 2007, tens of thousands of peasants at Nandigram in West Bengal, India rose up to defend their land. By the time their struggle abated, the peasants had stopped the plans of the Left Front government in West Bengal to build a giant chemical complex on their land, and they had driven the police and the armed cadre of the CPI (Marxist) entirely out of the Nandigram area for eight months. This struggle radically transformed the political terrain in the growing struggle against the hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” that are being planned and built from one end of India to another.
Based on legislation passed in 2005, Special Economic Zones are enclaves of new industry and infrastructure. SEZs offer hefty exemptions from taxes on profits, no tariffs, and exemptions from most labor legislation. Since SEZs are treated as “public service utilities,” strikes are illegal. SEZs are aptly called Special Exploitation Zones by Indian activists because they allow big Indian capitalists and multinational corporations to extract high rates of profit from their workers and plunder India’s natural resources. Though not yet on the same scale as the sprawling economic zones of southeast China, over 500 SEZs have been approved by the Central and State authorities. Most of them are under construction or in the process of land acquisition.