New Delhi: Stopping just short of advocating a ban on the acquisition of farmland for setting up special economic zones (SEZs), a multi-party parliamentary panel on Friday recommended a freeze on fresh notifications until the controversial policy was amended to focus on ensuring food security as much as boosting exports.
“Between exports and food security, we feel food security is more important,” said Murli Manohar Joshi, chairman of the standing committee on commerce, which began examining the functioning of SEZs on 8 December 2005.
“We found that the government acted with undue haste in granting aprovals for SEZs and we have recommended that it should now take a fresh look at the policy,” said Joshi. He warned that setting up SEZs on farmland would have a serious impact on food production and, therefore, food security of the country.
The 174-page report recommends use of waste and barren land for setting up SEZs and permits acquisition of only single-crop, rain-fed land in cases where agricultural land is needed for the zones. However, it suggests a cap on the percentage of cultivable land at 40% of the total area in case of a single-product SEZ, and at 20% in case of a multi-product SEZ. Further, it says the land should be given to the developers only on lease.
Lalit B. Singhal, director-general of the Export Promotion Council for SEZs, said some of the recommendations had been widely anticipated and that this hadn’t stopped the government from continuing to approve fresh SEZs. The government has approved 341 zones, given in-principle nod to 170 and notified 128 zones.
Singhal said it was now up to the empowered group of ministers to issue directions to the board of approvals, the body that approves SEZs. The next meeting of the board is scheduled for 12 July. The panel has suggested a cap on the size of SEZs at 2,000 hectares for multi-product SEZs where cultivable land has been acquired. For multi-product SEZs set up on wasteland, the recommended ceiling is 5,000 hectares. It has also recommended linking tax sops to exports.
D. Raja, national secretary of the CPI, said the government’s seriousness in implementing the recommendations would determine how the protests against forcible land acquisition pan out.
Joshi said the Centre would have to submit an “action taken report” within three months. “The panel may not be an executing authority, but it can certainly keep pushing the government to accept the recommendations,” he said.