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Punjab nod to Mukesh

Chandigarh, June 26: Punjab today gave Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries the green signal to set up agri hubs in the state, overriding resistance from farmers and the Opposition.

Chief minister Amarinder Singh today said the cabinet decision was taken after Mukesh Ambani told him last week “he would go ahead with the project with or without the government’s approval”.

The Rs 5,000-crore project proposes to set up 50 rural business hubs, 300 satellite RBHs, 20 agriculture processing units, markets and 22,000 retail outlets from where agri-products it procures will be sold.

Once implemented, the project will cover 80 per cent of the farmers and give Reliance a presence in 12,400 of 12,700 villages in the state.

But in Patiala, Amarinder’s home district, its presence will be negligible.

The first five hubs will start functioning this October.

Apart from procuring vegetables from farmers for domestic and overseas marketing, the project envisages direct purchase of wheat and rice; processing horticulture produce; procurement of milk for onward processing; crop insurance; finance to farmers; irrigation facilities; establishing agriculture markets; providing new seeds, farm implements, fertilisers, pesticides, latest facilities and know-how to farmers; and setting up primary and middle-level educational institutions.

Amarinder said the project will begin with an initial investment of Rs 500 crore which will gradually be increased in three to five years. It will generate direct and indirect employment for 30,000 people.

Reliance has been discussing setting up similar hubs with the governments of Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

Amarinder said the state was not giving Reliance any land free. While government land would be allotted on realisation of full costs, government and panchayat land would be allotted at an annual lease of Rs 16,000 per acre with an escalation of 10 per cent after every five years.

Earlier, the government decided to hand over panchayat land at their purchase price, sparking protests by the Akali Dal and farmers’ bodies.

A plot in Mohali costing over Rs 1,000 crore was to be handed over for less than Rs 10 crore to Reliance, inviting charges of a sellout of the state to the company. “The land at Mohali would now be allotted to Reliance on the basis of reverse bidding so that the price commensurate with the market price is determined and realised. Bengal is giving land free,” Amarinder said.

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