Smarting under protests over forced land acquisition, the eastern states have slowed down granting space for industrial projects and emerged as laggards in the implementation of new special economic zones (SEZs), which were meant to revive manufacturing in the region.
Since 2005, only two projects have managed to get notified among the four states in the region.
West Bengal has only one such proposal making it to the notification stage. That implies all legal formalities have been completed, and land has been allotted for the project to begin. Of the 24 proposals posted to the Board of Approvals for SEZs, 16 have got only in-principle clearance and eight have got the formal nod, which is a precursor to the notification. The formal approval was given almost a year ago.
“We are not seeing much enthusiasm from West Bengal,’’ says an official of the Commerce Ministry who did not wish to be identified. “After the Nandigram episode (where farmers’ protest against land acquisition for a chemical SEZ turned violent, claiming the lives of at least 20 people on more than two occasions), the state has completely gone on a back foot,’’ the official says.
“The critical issue has been land,’’ said D. Sengupta, managing director of ICICI-West Bengal Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd, which helps find potential industrial sites. West Bengal, for instance, was earlier pushing for land acquisition using a legislation that allows forceful acquisition of farmland for infrastructure and industrial projects. The price of land is fixed and non-negotiable. This policy boomeranged on the state, when farmers with political backing from opposition parties, began to protest against this muscling. Today, the state government is allowing direct negotiations for land for each project. “This will speed up the process of land acquisition,’’ Sengupta expects.
Even projects which have completed land acquisitions and got approval of the Board of Approvals, have been finding it difficult to get notified. There is a lot of paper work required, where the title of the land has to be cleared and certified by the land revenue authorities and inspection done by the development officers, informs R.K. Sounthalia, all-India vice-chairman of the Export Promotion Council for Export Oriented Units and Special Economic Zones.
“The officials in West Bengal have been treading very cautiously on this paper-work, which has become very time consuming,’’ he says. Officials from the land department were unavailable for comment.
Other states have fared better. According to the list posted on the Union commerce ministry’s official website for SEZs in India, Andhra Pradesh has got 26 of its 53 projects notified as on 1 May this year. Tamil Nadu has got 15 of its 37 projects cleared for development. Even the other Left-run state, Kerala has got six of its 12 projects notified. In the west, Maharashtra is leading the pack with 13 of its 72 proposals cleared for operation, while Gujarat has cleared seven of its 29 projects.
In Orissa too, when many of the projects are being implemented by the state’s industrial development agency itself, the paper work has stalled the progress of the projects, Sounthalia adds.
He points out that three more of the projects in West Bengal are now finally ready for notification. Orissa has also readied a few. These will come up on 22 June, when the Board of Approvals meets next.