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SEZ approval burst on state
- Centre clears projects amid row

New Delhi/Calcutta, Sept. 3: In the middle of a raging controversy over the rush to set up special economic zones (SEZs), it has come to light that as many as 11 such projects in Bengal have already received formal central approval and six more have been cleared in principle.

The Bengal government intends to send some more proposals.

Three of the SEZs that have received formal approval are already functioning — Saltlec City (electronics), Falta (information technology) and Manikanchan (gems and jewellery).

Two others are under development — the Kulpi multi-product SEZ, promoted by the state government, and the Calcutta leather complex, promoted by ML Dalmiya & Co.

News of the approvals comes when the CPM, the ruling party in Bengal, has expressed serious apprehensions that huge tracts of land are being handed over to private companies to develop real estate in the name of building SEZs.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also believed to have voiced concern about the displacement of people SEZs would entail and has had a discussion with Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee who told her how the Left Front government was creating a “human” crisis with these projects.

Modelled on the Chinese pattern where they have been highly successful in promoting exports and creating jobs, the SEZ scheme provides for a 15-year tax holiday for both developers of the zones and export units set up within them.

The CPM’s objection to the scheme is that under it only 25 per cent of the land needs to be used exclusively for industrial units and the rest for commercial and residential purposes. It argues that if land is being used for real estate development, there is no reason for the government to sacrifice revenue by offering a tax holiday.

In its policy on SEZs, the Bengal government has built in some safeguards to ensure land is used for industrialisation rather than real estate development.

First, the focus will be on high employment generation through manufacturing activity with emphasis on small and medium enterprises.

Besides, there will be conditions for land use. A commerce and industry department official said: “Of the total land, 50 per cent will have to be devoted to production, while another 25 per cent will have infrastructure relating to manufacturing. The rest 25 per cent will house workers’ canteens, shopping complexes, schools and hospitals for workers.”

Of the 17 SEZ proposals sent to the Centre, the idea is to make eight oriented towards IT and business process outsourcing, said a commerce ministry official in Delhi. Four are expected to be electronic hardware and software export zones, the official added.

Five of the SEZs that have received formal clearance are based on IT, to be put up by ML Dalmiya & Co (Calcutta), Bata (Batanagar), DLF (Rajarhat), Shapoorji Pallonji (Rajarhat) and Enfield Exports (Burdwan).

A state official said by the end of this month, some more proposals will be sent to Delhi.

“We’ve written to the small-scale industries and food processing departments, asking them to identify investors. Preference will be given to proposals from underdeveloped areas like Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore and districts in north Bengal,” said the official. Even the Chinese are interested. They toured Falta and some other areas to pick a site for a chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics and jute products SEZ.

BIG PUSH

Green signal
11 special economic zones
Three already working, two coming up

Initial approval
Six special economic zones

Focus
Eight SEZs to be on infotech and BPO

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