The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Karat assurance on SEZs
- Village up in arms

Calcutta, Jan. 4: Drawing a distinction between the Singur small-car project and special economic zones, CPM chief Prakash Karat has promised to take the Left Front into confidence on SEZs, including the one proposed in East Midnapore.

“Nothing has happened so far in Nandigram and nothing will happen there before the Left Front decides first. Wherever SEZs are involved, all our partners will examine and discuss the proposals,’’ Karat said this evening as the three-day session of the CPM central committee came to a close.

A string of industry and infrastructure projects in East Midnapore requires acquisition of over 30,000 acres. Around 27,000 acres will be acquired in Nandigram, Haldia and adjoining areas for two SEZs by Indonesia’s Salim Group and the township it will build.

Karat said the Tata Motors unit in Singur is a “non-SEZ car project” that would be “good for Bengal”. He also lauded the compensation package being given to land-losers there.

“The state government has prepared a land-use policy and we expect it to follow it for future industrialisation and urbanisation projects,’’ the CPM general secretary said, asked about the party’s policy on land for non-SEZ industries.

But he kept mum on the violence in Nandigram and the government’s plan to acquire land there, apparently because it involves SEZs. The CPM’s partners in the Front have dubbed the land acquisition in Nandigram a “ploy to reintroduce the zamindari system by corporate groups and real estate tycoons”.

In tune with the party’s line, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had yesterday declared that the number of SEZs in the state would be restricted to “four to five”.

The allies, however, were not pacified and insisted on discussing a “project-specific map of the land to be acquired both for SEZ and non-SEZ industries”.

“Singur was a different story. Land acquisition in Nandigram and other places is mainly for SEZs and our attitude to SEZ is clear. No relevant documents have been provided to us despite the CPM’s assurance in the last Left Front meeting,’’ said Forward Bloc state secretary Asoke Ghosh.

CPI’s D. Raja said the government should “learn a lesson from Singur and not take hasty steps in Nandigram and other SEZ projects”.

Both leaders pointed out that a joint note submitted by the CPM, CPI, Forward Bloc and the RSP to the Centre in October on SEZs is “binding” on the state government in “letter and spirit”.

The Left’s note demanded SEZs in “non-agricultural land” and asked for “livelihood security to displaced families”, along with compensation in accordance with the future price of the land as well as equity stakes to land-losers in SEZ developer companies.

However, Karat hinted at a flexible approach. “Our first goal is to ensure amendments to the central SEZ act and then take up the issue of changes in the land acquisition act. Both cannot be done at one go. Second, we have made various proposals in the joint Left note. All of it can’t be feasible everywhere or at one go. Neither have we reached conclusions on all issues,” he said.

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