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Subproject 3: Mona Chettri

The Making of a De-facto Special Economic Zone: Liberalizing the Eastern Himalayan Borderland

The eastern Himalayan borderland is experiencing rapid economic, social and spatial transformation as a result of accelerated economic liberalization, converting it into a lucrative investment enclave for pharmaceutical companies and hydropower projects. This project focuses on the Indian federal state of Sikkim, a highly strategic borderland (India-China, India-Nepal, India-Bhutan). Sikkim did not become part of Indian territory until 1975 and the subsequent liberalization of the state has created socio-economic ruptures and transformed the entire state into a de-facto Special Economic Zone (SEZ) where protective land, labour and legal regimes are bypassed with impunity.

In Sikkim, tensions between the state, private companies and local communities have given rise to an exceptional model of governance which is couched in the language of development and has created new inlets of finance from India and abroad. Sikkim is a de-facto SEZ, a borderland which provides a framework for connecting global influence to its local manifestations.

This sub-project looks at two economic constellations-hydropower projects, pharmaceuticals- and the emerging politics (or the lack thereof) over land grabbing triggered by the tension between state-led liberalization and the erosion of customary rights over land and natural resources. It will focus on three different sites within Sikkim which are experiencing social, economic and political ruptures fuelled by state-enabled liberalisation and mimicking the conditions of a state-wide SEZ.