The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Industry seal, SEZ go-slow
- CPM politburo endorses Bengal drive

Feb. 18: The CPM politburo has put its formal seal on the Bengal government’s industrialisation drive but seized on a Central go-slow to sweep the thorny SEZ issue under the carpet.

“We endorse the Bengal government’s policy. Much of the allegation of coercion (of peasants) has been rebuffed,” CPM general secretary Prakash Karat told reporters in Delhi after the party’s two-day politburo meeting.

Karat iterated that no pending project for special economic zones would be given the final go-ahead till the Centre amends rules for use of land and rehabilitation of the displaced.

Since the Nandigram flare-up, the Bengal government had also been saying that it would wait for the central policy before going ahead with land acquisition for SEZs. A formal decision to keep the projects in abeyance, however, had already been taken by the Union commerce ministry under pressure from the Congress.

“SEZs involve not just Bengal. They are a national phenomenon,” said Karat. “The Bengal CPM leadership has informed the politburo that the SEZ proposals for Bengal will be finalised after changes are made to the central act.”

Karat’s comments suggest the party still wants to go ahead with the SEZ push in Bengal if the land issue could be resolved, though some Left Front allies have been demanding that the policy be abandoned altogether.

However, restive allies such as the CPI, Forward Bloc and the RSP touted Karat’s statement as “backtracking” that could help break a deadlock over a land ceiling bill.

The bill, now caught in a Left wrangle, has little to do with SEZs but it seeks to unlock land for commercial and infrastructure projects as well as infotech and biotech ventures.

Claiming that Karat has “vindicated” their position on SEZs, some Left Front leaders said in Calcutta that they may soften their opposition to the bill and allow leeway to “non-SEZ” industries.

The CPM is expected to kick off talks with the allies on the bill tomorrow. The party’s state committee will also begin a two-day meeting tomorrow.

The politburo repeated chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s line that land would be acquired only from willing sellers. “As a policy, we are not going to take land away from the people who are not giving it willingly,” Karat said.

The politburo also endorsed the Bengal government’s stand on the Tata car project in Singur. “The charge that the land has been forcibly acquired is false,” the party said.

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