Volume 2, Number 1 (2009)

Contradictions of Enclave Development in Contemporary Times: Special Economic Zones in India

Swapna Banerjee-Guha

Tata Institute of Social Sciences


Is India moving on a path towards segregating society, enclaving economic space in a way that essentially excludes the majority from the development orbit? A large number of Indian people are currently enraged about this crucial question. Official outlets make frantic efforts to project this tendency as a contradiction between modernity and backwardness, industrial prosperity and languishing agriculture and label anyone questioning the validity of the above exclusionist development model as ‘anti-development’ or ‘unlawful’. Yet innumerable lived experiences continue to demonstrate heightening inequalities and increasing expendability of the poor in different sectors and in different forms. Take the case of the resource rich tribal heartland of Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh located in central and eastern India. Mining areas in these states are being leased out to corporations with renewed gusto leaving the poor tribal community homeless; common lands and waste lands in several states that have been traditionally providing livelihood and survival means to the poor are being taken over to make Special Economic Zones;  rich coastal areas with enormous bio-diversity are being  handed over to corporations like Dow Chemical for making chemical hubs; natural resources like rivers are being privatised for industrial and commercial purposes, like the Sheonath river in Chattisgarh.  Examples abound. The above ‘development’ process that rests heavily on displacement and destruction is creating an irreversible production structure in favour of the rich that is actively supported by all major international financial institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank and the like and facilitated by the neoliberal Indian state. This article examines a contentious development policy, of the above genre, in contemporary India, that of establishing economic enclaves all over the country. While examining the official logic of its implementation, it discusses the interrelationship that exists between spatiality of capital and the opening up of new economic spaces.