In some countries, special economic zones are created by Government in which the usual legal safeguards do not apply.
This can mean that farmers and land users are adversely affected, and that compensation is inadequate, partly because there is no market value against which compensation can be assessed
There are many critiques (as well as defences) of special economic zones. A study by the Legal Reader suggests over half the countries in the world have set up SEZs, and they collectively employ over 66 million workers. Disputes focus on the alleged abrogation of workers’ rights, the lack of availability to join a union, on environmental impacts, and land grabs are common in these zones.
Communities have successfully used legal action in the past to defend their land rights within Special Economic Zones.
In 2008 fishing communities in Kutch filed a case in the Supreme Court of India against the Mundra Port Special Economic Zone. They were supported by NGOs and environmental activists.
The evidence filed included satellite maps and photographs before and after the construction of the SEZ, showing environmental damage.
The Court initially stayed the work on the Zone (later the Order was vacated) and issued a notice to the company behind the Zone not to fill in a fishing creek. The Gujarat High Court ordered the District authorities to inspect the creeks.
A third case was filed by the people of Navinal village who claimed the Zone was destroying mangroves, building without permission, and that grazing land had been improperly sold.
In Goa, a protest movement against the Special Economic Zones formed an alliance called Virodhi Manch which brought together organisations and communities.
The dispute has been described as the “Goan impasse”. Conflicts over SEZs between corporate developers, the state, and peasants’ and citizens’ groups have led to the termination of several SEZs and Goa state revoking its SEZ policy, and suspending 15 SEZs, some with construction underway.
Other SEZ disputes have been reported in a range of countries including Thailand, Myanmar.
These cases how that even if you live in an SEZ, you may still be able to use legal action to defend your land rights.