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Drill on SEZ land clarity

New Delhi, May 2: The SEZ rehabilitation policy being finalised is likely to provide greater clarity on the issue of voluntary land sale to state governments.

The draft policy was today referred to the empowered group of ministers (EGoM).

Though the EGoM had barred land acquisition by state governments, it was silent on whether states could buy land from owners willing to sell at market prices.

“The issue assumes importance as state governments have also been allowed to set up SEZs either on their own or as joint venture partners with private companies,” a senior official said.

Besides, for large SEZs, contiguity of plots is essential and fragmented ownership can create problems for private companies acquiring land. Here states can step in to resolve the land acquisition problem.

Rural development minister Raghuvansh Singh was expecting a quick clearance from the law ministry to the draft policy, paving the way for cabinet approval. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted a review by the EGoM.

The policy for mandatory rehabilitation of land owners displaced by industrial projects and SEZs followed protests and subsequent violence in Nandigram over land acquisition by the Bengal government for an SEZ.

The policy has an amended land acquisition act, a mandatory rehabilitation policy and a rehabilitation law. Sources said the policy made it mandatory for states to set up rehabilitation councils with statutory powers to enforce the compensation package for the displaced.

At present, state governments have been acquiring land for industrial projects, SEZs and housing projects under the “public interest” clause. The rural development ministry wants to limit this clause to defence projects and highways.

The policy envisages rehabilitation through various forms of compensation such as allotting free house sites to the displaced.

Allotting cultivable land to the extent of actual land loss and a rehabilitation grant equivalent to 750 days’ minimum agricultural wages have been suggested.

If the acquired land is to be used to build houses, the affected family should get an apartment in the project area and if an irrigation project is planned there, the compensation should be in the form of fishing rights.

The rehabilitation councils will undertake environmental and social impact assessment for each project that affects 400 or more families, or 200 or more families in case of tribals, and draw up plans for rehabilitation before displacement.

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