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Dagger hangs over future of SEZs in India

Dagger hangs over future of SEZs in India

The Maharashtra government's move to put an end to the land acquisition process for the Mukesh Ambani-led MSEZ puts a question mark on several SEZs across the country.

The Maharashtra government's move to put an end to the land acquisition process for the Mukesh Ambani-led Maha Mumbai Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) project gives more strength to those protesting the setting up of other SEZs. In fact, this now puts a question mark on several SEZs across the country.

A series of unending protests that stalked the land acquisition process of the SEZs across India forced the Centre to hand over the onus of land acquisition to the respective state government in 2009, instead of the SEZ promoters. However, that has also failed to break the deadlock at several places.

The state government has passed a resolution to stop the process. Late on Friday, the government also made it clear that it would return the land it has acquired for the project to the owners. The government had issued over 29,000 acquisition notices to farmers for acquiring around 10,000 hectares.

A government official had said that the government had taken the decision in the interest of farmers citing that the process of land acquisition for the SEZ was not completed within the stipulated period. The land acquisition was supposed to have been completed by December, 2009, that is, within two years from the date of allotment of the SEZ. No official announcement was made on the issue, though.

Meanwhile, the farmers in Pen, Panvel and Uran talukas celebrated the news by bursting crackers. Majority of them were not inclined to surrender their land through which they were eking out their living for decades.

"The government dropped the curtains on the project. This is the result of four years of incessant struggle by the farmers and numerous agitations undertaken. This milestone will stand as an inspiration for those agitating against other SEZs," said Ulka Mahajan of the SEZ Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti.

"The next step is to agitate for water supply for cultivation of these lands. Over the last 27 years, they have been promising this but have diverted the same towards industries set up under the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corp) initiative," Mahajan added.

The land acquisition procedure for the proposed SEZ project, spread over 35,000 acres in Raigad, began in May, 2006. But the company managed to acquire only 13 per cent of the land within the stipulated period. Residents of 45 villages voted against the project in a referendum conducted by the state government in September, 2008.

The issue is expected to put the venture promoted by Mukesh Ambani and his associate Anand Jain in trouble, as getting their money back could be difficult.

Sudhakar Patil of the Maha-Mumbai Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti that opposes the SEZ began demanding return of the land to the rightful owners, citing that, "We will neither get jobs nor the rehabilitation package and it is not binding on us to return the money as the developers failed to acquire the land in the stipulated time." Acquisition of large swathes of land by industrialists in the name of SEZs has already been termed as a 'real estate scam' by several political parties and some intellectuals.

The latest developments could add fuel to such allegations accentuating the headache for the Centre, which is grappling with a series of scams.

"We are not opposed to setting up industries. But it (MSEZ) is a real estate scam in the name of industrialisation," Mahajan said, adding, "The land acquired for industrialisation has to be used for setting up industries only."

Courtesy: Mail Today