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Bengal moots fund to sweeten SEZs

Calcutta/New Delhi, Jan. 24: The Bengal government has asked the Centre to incorporate in the special economic zone policy a fund to develop adjoining areas.

The state government feels that such a fund should be used to build infrastructure facilities in backward areas so that investors would be encouraged to set up shop in SEZs there. Such an initiative will also help the SEZ to address concerns of the local population.

The proposal reflects the government’s eagerness to shift focus from areas close to urban clusters, where uninhabited land is scarce and resentment to acquisition is high.

The “development fund” is among several proposals the state government has sent to the Centre to sensitise the SEZ policy to the ground situation.

Bengal’s proposals complement a charter of demands — more or less modelled on the Bengal plan — placed by the CPM before a parliamentary panel today. (See chart)

Bengal commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen has written to commerce secretary G.K. Pillai.

The state has recommended that the developer be asked to deposit with the SEZ development commissioner a certain percentage of tax concessions allowed by the Centre. The fund will be used under the commissioner’s supervision.

Sen has also submitted that there should be a differentiation between SEZs in developed and backward areas. Additional concessions should be given to SEZs in backward districts in the form of a relaxation in the manufacturing area ceiling and scope for more commercial activity.

According to the state government, 50 per cent of land should be reserved for the main manufacturing activity. The rest can be used for infrastructure facilities and commercial business.

The Bengal government has also sought a rehabilitation package, which will make it mandatory for the developer to ensure vocational training as well as alternative livelihood for those displaced.

The state government initiative came as the CPM put its wish list on the table in Delhi. The party, treading with caution after the protests in Bengal, has suggested amendments to the land acquisition act so that rehabilitation becomes a legal requirement.

At the meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on commerce today, Nurul Huda and K. Wardharajan — leaders of the CPM’s peasant outfit — demanded the creation of soil teams to test the fertility of the land being acquired.

But the party has left elbow room for Bengal, which has negligible fallow land, by saying fertile stretches should be spared “as far as practical”.

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