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Buddha wants fresh look at SEZs

New Delhi, Dec. 19: Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today called for a “fresh look” at the special economic zone (SEZ) scheme, reflecting his party’s concerns on what it views as a skewed package.

“The scheme for SEZs requires a fresh look,” Bhattacharjee told the National Development Council meeting that was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other chief ministers.

Suggesting changes to the scheme, the chief minister said: “Industry groups should be identified in the first instance, which are to be covered under the scheme, instead of extending it to all and sundry.”

He said just as the minimum land required is prescribed, “there should be an upper ceiling on land as well for a prescribed type of SEZ”.

“Within that ceiling, the percentage of land area to be compulsorily utilised for industries as against other uses should also be carefully worked out and prescribed,” he added.

The comments were immediately seen in the context of Nandigram but sources clarified that the chief minister’s statement was in line with the CPM’s stand.

The party feels that SEZs are not the ideal vehicle to carry forward industrialisation. However, governments controlled by the party are compelled to follow the model because of competition from other states.

If Bengal does not set up SEZs where some companies can operate, such investors will be at a disadvantage compared with those in other states enjoying several benefits in such zones.

Bhattacharjee’s reference to “all and sundry” also reflects the CPM position that some states were indiscriminately promoting SEZs for the benefit of real estate players.

Under pressure from the CPM, the Centre had fixed a 5,000-hectare ceiling on land for SEZs. The government later hinted at reconsidering the limit for multi-product SEZs.

The Prime Minister, in his concluding remarks, sought to strike a balance by saying industrialisation was a national necessity “if we have to reduce pressure on agriculture and provide employment to youths”.

But Singh took note of Bhattacharjee’s concerns. He said a relief and rehabilitation policy had been put in place, which would ensure “fair” compensation to all displaced persons.

Bhattacharjee used the occasion to push for the speedy implementation of the Delhi-Calcutta rail freight corridor and modernisation of Calcutta airport. He also sought reduction of bank loans to agriculture and industry as inflation has fallen.

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