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No choice but SEZ, says Sen
Nirpuram Sen

Calcutta, July 18: The CPM may oppose the Centre’s special economic zone policy and press for changes in it, but Bengal cannot afford to do without them, industries minister Nirpuram Sen said today.

“We are principally opposed to the central SEZ act and would stop setting them up if all states agree to do so. But being in the government, our task is to develop industry and create jobs for the unemployed,” he said, replying to the debate on his department’s budget in the Assembly.

“If we oppose SEZs in Bengal, or refuse tax relief to industries as proposed in the central policy, not only would investors shun Bengal but our existing export-oriented units would face closure.”

The state will ask the Cen-tre to lower the minimum plot size required for multi-product SEZs in view of the scarcity of land.

A multi-product SEZ has to now cover at least 2,500 acres. The CPM wants it reduced to 1,000 acres.

Earlier, it had asked the Centre to lower the cap on maximum land for such SEZs from 12,500 acres to 5,000.

“The government need not comment on the maximum limit since it is up to us to consider while approving an SEZ. But the minimum land requirement is making it difficult to set up SEZs,” said Sen.

He also wants a cap on the land to be used for SEZs so that land-scarce states like Bengal do not face “uneven competition” from larger states.

Bengal will oppose direct sale of farmers’ land to SEZ developers. It will seek an amendment to the land acquisition act to make compensation and rehabilitation for landlosers a part of it. “This will also ensure a level playing ground among the states competing to attract investment,” Sen said.

Although critical about the tax sops being offered in SEZs, he said government would not demand a change to avoid an adverse impact on investors’ attitude towards Bengal.

Replying to the demand to set up an expert committee to examine the environmental impact of the proposed chemical hub, the minister said the central guidelines for such a facility includes “maintenance of ecological balance”. The state will conduct an “environmental impact assessment”, to be scrutinised by a committee led by the Union cabinet secretary.

Sen denied any differences within the government on the amount of land acquired with farmers’ consent in Singur.

The chief minister’s figure — that consent had been obtained for as much 954 acres out of 997 — is based on information provided by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and it is correct, Sen assured the Assembly.

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