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Package to pluck SEZ land thorns

New Delhi, March 7: A proposal has been mooted to confine special economic zones (SEZs) to wasteland.

However, in states where acquisition of farmland is unavoidable, SEZs should be allowed on the condition that wasteland would be upgraded into cultivable land to ensure “food security”.

The proposals are part of a blueprint drawn up by the rural development ministry, which has been asked by the Prime Minister to work on a rehabilitation package for land acquisition for SEZs.

In a written submission to Murli Manohar Joshi, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on industry, the ministry said: “SEZs should be established preferably on wasteland… where use of agricultural land cannot be avoided, single-crop land in rainfed areas may be considered. In completely unavoidable circumstances, multi-crop land may be used for strategic requirements.”

But it has added a rider that if farmland is taken over, there “should be compensatory development of wasteland for the sake of food security”. This, sources said, will form part of the rehabilitation package that the ministry will submit to the cabinet soon.

The ministry’s submission, sources said, is believed to form “the core principles on which it has drawn up its report”.

If the cabinet accepts the suggestions, investors who have proposed SEZs in Bengal will be among the beneficiaries. According to state government data, only 0.5 per cent of land in Bengal is fallow — which makes the use of farmland, including multi-crop land, for SEZs unavoidable.

The fate of at least eight proposals for SEZs, including two from the Salim Group, is hanging in the balance now as the Centre has slammed the brakes, pending the rural development ministry’s rehabilitation report.

In the note to the standing committee, which is preparing an independent report on SEZs for Parliament, the ministry stressed that there should be a state-wise balance in distributing SEZs to avoid regional disparities.

The suggestion is seen as an indictment of the manner in which SEZ proposals have been approved till now. States like Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have 19 and 45 formal approvals, respectively, covering some 10,682 hectares and 9,460 hectares. But the Northeast does not have a single clearance.

The ministry has suggested the creation of “a list of activities that may not be allowed on SEZs, e.g., setting up of golf courses or other such facilities with large land requirements”.

An official said the government felt that allied activities could include communication facilities, airports and employees’ quarters “but not malls and housing estates for non-workers and stadia.

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