The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SEZ fate in Sonia hands
Sonia : Tricky zone

New Delhi, Feb. 2: Sonia Gandhi is likely to convene a “high-level meeting” of a group of ministers to take a comprehensive view of the special economic policy.

The meeting, reflecting the sense of urgency within the government and party to clear the air on the contentious issue, is expected to take place before February 23, when the budget session of Parliament begins.

Besides the group of ministers — Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram and Kamal Nath — three other Congress leaders are expected to attend the meeting. The three — Ashok Gehlot, Digvijay Singh and Veerappa Moily — have been interacting with the ministers on SEZs on behalf of the party.

Sources said the meeting will take into account the process by which SEZs have been cleared and assess their impact on farmers and the others displaced.

The participants will also study the draft rehabilitation policy, pending which approvals to SEZs have been put on hold. The emerging view in the Congress is that of the pending SEZs, only the smaller ones should be cleared.

Bengal IT zone

The move to call the meeting came on a day the Centre cleared an infotech SEZ on the outskirts of Calcutta, removing the last hurdle to the construction of core facilities.

The SEZ promoted by ML Dalmiya & Co, chaired by former cricket boss Jagmohan Dalmiya, was among 30 such zones given final approval by the Union government.

The clearance will give a headstart to companies that had opted for the SEZ after steep land prices drove them away from the Bengal government’s proposed IT park at Rajarhat’s New Town.

The formal nod is needed to begin “authorised operations” in SEZs. The Centre had earlier said 63 notified projects would be cleared. The 30 approved today fall among the 63, which have already acquired land.

The IT zone is coming up in Bantala, off the EM Bypass. Several infotech companies, such as Cognizant Technology Solutions and Tech Mahindra, have bought plots there. But till now, they have had to confine themselves to activities like building boundary walls.

With the final clearance, full-fledged construction can begin, which should be over in 18 months.

“Our 20-acre campus in Bantala SEZ should be operational partially by mid-2008. It will take a bit of time because basic infrastructure is being put in place,” Siddhartha Mukherjee, Cognizant vice-president, said.

Mukherjee added that the company would have ideally liked a plot in New Town as it has infrastru- cture but the asking rate of Rs 2 crore an acre was too high. Cognizant paid around Rs 87 lakh an acre at Bantala.

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