Union commerce minister Kamal Nath on Friday sought to control the damage to the special economic zones (SEZs) initiative caused by violence in West Bengal’s Nandigram that led to the death of 14 people, even as anxious developers, who had obtained approval for SEZs, are scrambling to get their zones notified.
Nath, an advocate of the zones, said the government had decided not to approve any zones where there was a conflict over the acquisition of land.
“When land is to be acquired, and it is not decided how the land will be taken and justice done to farmers, the freeze would remain,” said Nath, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Study Conference. Nath added that the violence in Nandigram was triggered by the acquisition of land and not the SEZ policy. “We should not look at it as an SEZ issue, but one of land acquisition for industrial projects,” he said.
On Wednesday, police and protesters clashed in Nandigram, where the West Bengal government wants to acquire land for a special economic zone.
Next week, leaders of the ruling coalition United Progressive Alliance and a few other political parties will meet to discuss the future course of action on SEZs, especially with regard to those whose developers have already acquired land.
SEZ developers first apply for approval from the government and after securing this, go out and acquire land. Developers who have acquired land are eligible to have their SEZs notified.
Since January, the government has neither approved fresh SEZs nor notified existing ones that are eligible. The empowered group of ministers which will decide on the fate of the SEZ initiative, will meet only after these discussions.
Meanwhile, investors who have already obtained approval for their zones, are pushing to get their zones notified. “They are worried that they will be left out if the decision is to only allow those zones that are awaiting notification (and not those that are yet to be notified) to go through,” said a government official who did not wish to be identified.
According to information provided by the board of approval, which approves SEZs, the number of zones awaiting notification has increased from 51 to 56.
In addition, there are 115 zones that have been approved whose developers have completed acquiring land; these zones, too, are eligible for notification once their developers apply for this.
According to a source close to the development, who did not wish to be identified, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, is in favour of lifting the freeze on SEZ approvals and notifications in cases where the land has already been acquired. “The BJP’s committee on SEZs has written to the government that those cases where the land has been acquired should be allowed to go through,” the source said.
The empowered group, led by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, has not met since January. The freeze on approvals and notifications has raised questions about the fate of 162 SEZ proposals which have received in-principle approval ahead of land acquisition.
The Board of Approval has also received 322 fresh approvals from developers.