| Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Calcutta on Wednesday. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Jan. 3: Mirroring the CPM’s stated position, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said his government would not consider more than “four to five proposals” for special economic zones (SEZs) in Bengal.
This is the first time such a cut-off mark is being spelt out, though the chief minister did not elaborate if it includes proposals that have already been given “in-principle” clearance by the Centre.
The state government had forwarded to Delhi 17 of the 24 proposals it had received, of which eight won the Centre’s nod in October.
Bhattacharjee’s comments setting the ceiling were made at a public meeting attended by CPM general secretary Prakash Karat, who has been trying to get the Centre to go slow on SEZs and tighten rules of land use.
Karat said the party’s policy to oppose “land grabbing in the name of special economic zones” would be enforced in Bengal also.
His statement reflected the concern among party units that were finding it difficult to oppose SEZ projects in their states because of the perceived ambiguity regarding Bengal.
Both Bhattacharjee and Karat sought to clear the air.
Bhattacharjee said: “SEZs are meant for industries and not for real estate business. I have asked the Prime Minister and finance minister, ‘why do we need more than 200 SEZs'’ They should specify the number of SEZs needed in core sectors.
“In Bengal, we have focused on SEZs in petrochemicals and chemicals. Since SEZs are coming up across the country, we can’t say no to it. But we are taking measured steps. We have four to five proposals to set up SEZs in the state. We won’t go further.’’
If the chief minister sticks to the “four-to-five” limit — it is possible he meant the cleared proposals and did not quote the precise number during the extempore speech — three projects will have to be scrapped.
Among the SEZs on the drawing board are a chemical hub and a multi-sector one in Haldia and Nandigram by the Indonesian Salim Group, which together would need 22,500 acres. Others include the Kulpi port-cum-SEZ project as well as those by Videocon Group, Salarpuria Properties and Srei, which cumulatively require 10,000 acres. The state now has three SEZs.
Karat, too, played his part, drawing a distinction between the Singur land acquisition and “land-grabbing for SEZs”. “Singur is not an SEZ. Land has been acquired there for a factory,” he said.
Bhattacharjee today assured “jobs, direct or indirect, to every land-loser in Singur, especially those dependent on land”.
But he said acquisition of farmland for industry is unavoidable in Bengal, which has less than 1 per cent fallow land. “History will not forgive us if we deter from industrialisation for that reason.”