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Panel okays 83 SEZs
S Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 5
In the backdrop of widespread criticism of SEZ policy after the recent bloody incident in Nandigram, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) today decided to put a ceiling of 5,000 hectare for all SEZs and put an end to compulsory land acquisition by state governments for such projects.

The panel, headed by foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, which met here, also gave ‘go ahead’ to 83 SEZ proposals, which have completed all formalities and increased the processing area of the SEZs to 50 per cent of the land size.

Further the EGoM also spelt out that the state governments can reduce the limit of the ceiling from 5,000 hectares for SEZ projects in their jurisdiction.

“The decision will be applicable to all SEZs, including those which have already been notified,” commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath told mediapersons after the meeting that lasted little over two hours.

Nath clarified that as per the decision taken today, compulsory acquisition of land for SEZs by the states under the Land Acquisition Act would not be allowed and the onus of acquiring land from the owners will be on the SEZ developers.

“The rural development ministry has been asked to amend the Land Acquisition Act to make it more comprehensive,” he said.

The union minister also said a new comprehensive relief and rehabilitation policy would be finalised shortly, under which at least one member of the displaced family will have to be employed in the project, in addition to the compensation paid for the land acquisition.

“The rural development ministry is already engaged in preparing a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation policy,” the minister said.

Asked whether there is a freeze on receiving fresh SEZ proposals, Nath shot back saying “how can we stop people from applying (for SEZs)?”.

Of the 234 SEZs with formal approvals, 63 have already been notified, while 83 more were cleared today for notification. The board of approvals will now take up 162 SEZs with in-principle approval and 140 pending applications.

“As for the remaining proposals, those SEZs, which have in-principle approval will be cleared in due course after the Board of Approvals is satisfied that there is no dispute over the land,” Nath added.

Although industry chambers welcomed the decision of the EgoM, the decision on ceiling is bound to disappoint Reliance Industries which proposed to set up mega SEZs like Maha Mumbai in Maharashtra and one near Gurgaon.

Today’s decision obviously had the imprint of UPA allies, especially Left, which have been demanding putting land ceiling on SEZs and safeguards against SEZ developers using the zone for real estate activities.

According to the statistics made available by the commerce ministry, the 234 SEZs with formal approvals would require approximately 33,808 hectare of land, of which 17,800 hectare is already in possession of state agencies while the rest is with the developers. The SEZ area would not be more than 0.1 per cent of Agri land.

As against total land in India, 29,73,190 sq km, total Agri Land is 15,34,166 sq km (51.6 per cent).

If the 234 formal approvals become operational, an investment of Rs 3,00,000 crore is projected with an estimated creation of 4 million additional jobs.

As per the SEZ Act 2005, minimum area requirement for setting up of multi-product SEZs is 1,000 hectare and 100 hectare for sector specific SEZs.

Most of the applications for multi-product SEZs have been in the range of 1,000 to 2500 hectare - only two cases (of Reliance Industries) with 10,000 hectare.

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