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Shenzen, Jebel Ali set to get a Mumbai cousin

Mumbai, Nov. 6: A delineated territory far from the hustle-bustle that is Mumbai, with tax laws, labour laws and a hassle-free administration very different from the rest of the country may finally become a reality.

The special economic zone at Navi Mumbai, a satellite city close to the country’s commercial capital aims to get foreign direct investment from the same club of investors who made Shenzen in China and Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates possible.

“It took a lot of effort from the political leaders in Maharashtra to arrive at a consensus on the project,” Anil Kumar Lakhina, vice-chairman and managing director of City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra (Cidco), the lead state government agency behind the project, said.

The roadshows for attracting investment from prospective developers have generated interest among several international and domestic investors. Roadshows were organised in Singapore, San Francisco, New York, London and Dubai, with CIDCO claiming that the SEZ will be on a par with its global counterparts.

That the state government is serious about the project can be gauged by the way it has tried to hard sell the new city.

Chief secretary of Maharashtra Ajit Nimbalkar and principal secretary (finance) A. D. Jadhav were present at all the roadshows. Global majors like Bechtel, Sembcorp Utilities, Skanska, Aberdeen Property Asset Managers were among those who evinced interest in the roadshows.

Analysts point out that China’s SEZs propelled foreign direct investment levels in that country to stratospheric heights behind the bamboo curtain, and they expect foreign investment to flow into India only if the government enacts special laws in areas such as labour.

The SEZ will have an administrator very much like the Viceroys of the Raj, vested with special powers. The consortium, which will finally set up the SEZ, will earn revenue from lease rentals from the infrastructure they set up. Incidentally, the SEZ at Navi Mumbai will be the 251st SEZ in the world. “Globally, there have been many failures while setting up SEZs,” Lakhina said.

The SEZ, which will function as a duty-free enclave, will boast of advantages that Mumbai never had and rival other major special economic zones in the world for investment.

About 4,377 hectares of land has already been demarcated for the SEZ. “We have the land in our possession and thus we can avoid valuable time on resettlement issues. There is a world-class road network in place and JNPT—a world class sea port which gets 70 per cent of the containerised traffic—is next door with the complete infrastructure like 300 hectares for container stations with railway sidings,” Lakhina said.

“Where else in the country would you find such ready-made infrastructure'” Lakhina said a plan is also being worked out to get people owning land adjoining the SEZ to contribute their land for subsequent equity rights.

While the old city of Mumbai was built around its port—the Bombay Port Trust—Lakhina says the new city will be built around JNPT. It has 12 metres of draft water unlike BPT which has only eight metres. An international airport is also planned near the proposed SEZ.

The last date for inviting EOIs from bidders is tomorrow. CIDCO, which will hold a 26-49 per cent stake in the SEZ, is confident that if any special economic zone succeeds in the country, it will be the one at Navi Mumbai.

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