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SEZ cap plea, silent prayer

New Delhi, April 3: Cautious after Nandigram, the CPM plans to propose a 5,000-acre cap on special economic zones (SEZs) but could be silently praying the Centre does not accept it.

The party also announced that it will review all industrialisation projects — not SEZs alone — in Bengal that require large-scale land acquisition and where the farmers have not given consent.

CPM general secretary Prakash Karat told a news conference the politburo has decided there should be a 2,000-hectare (5,000-acre) ceiling on SEZs.

“Some of the proposed SEZs have huge tracts of land,” he said.

At least two such have been planned in Bengal: the Salim Group’s chemical SEZ spread across 10,000 acres that was to come up in Nandigram and a 12,500-acre multi-product SEZ.

“Whether it is Salim projects or not, the party has asked us to take the farmers into confidence and strengthen the political process wherever a big chunk of land is needed to be acquired,’’ central committee member Benoy Konar said.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — and his party, which fully backs his industrialisation campaign but must be seen in public as speaking up for farmers — will be hoping the Centre rejects the ceiling so that the CPM can have its cake and eat it, too.

“The government will first have to accept the cap,” Karat stressed.

He might be banking on a section within the Union cabinet, which is a strong votary of SEZs, to ensure the ceiling is rejected. Some Congress-led state governments have planned SEZs bigger than 5,000 acres. At present there is no cap on land.

In February, the CPM had suggested that SEZs larger than 5,000 acres be developed by the government or PSUs. This was before 14 people were killed in police firing while resisting land acquisition in Nandigram, putting Bhattacharjee and his party in the dock.

After the three-day politburo and central committee session ended, the party was at pains to be seen as treading with caution, a line that Jyoti Basu has been advocating.

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