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There are many critiques (as well as defences) of special economic zones. See https://www.legalreader.com/beware-the-special-economic-zone/ which 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.
For case studies of public interest litigation on Special Economic Zones in India, see
Gujarat Mundra Port Special Economic Zone
Example: In 2008 fishing communities in Kutch filed a public interest litigation 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. For details of the dispute see the Notice from Government to the SEZ For further reporting, see here.
Example: in Goa, a protest movement against the Special Economic Zones formed an alliance called Virodhi Manch which brought together many organisations and community sectors. This dispute has been widely commented on, including recent work by Preeti Sampat, who describes the “Goan impasse” whereby conflicts over SEZs between corporate developers, the state, and peasants’ and citizens’ groups led to the termination of several SEZs and Goa state revoking its SEZ policy, and suspending 15 SEZs, some with construction underway. Sampat describes “alliances of peasants’ and citizens’ groups struggling against dispossession shore up legal strategies as critical “repertoires of protest,” challenging “legality” (or rule of law) and “state sovereignty” on the one hand and simultaneously petitioning “the legal system” for redress on the other, sometimes gaining important “concessions,” at other times more significantly, getting rid of the “offending project.”” For a summary see here. Or for a very full analysis in 2015 see here.
Other SEZ disputes have been reported in a range of countries including Thailand, Myanmar.