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Mumbai: Farmers from Rajgurunagar in Pune district of Maharashtra started their protest march to get back their 1,700 hectares (ha) land acquired for the multi-product special economic zone (SEZ) developed by the Khed Economic Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd (KEIPL), a special purpose vehicle (SPV) promoted by Bharat Forge Ltd. and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), as no development activity is taking place in the SEZ.

The farmers started their 45km march from Rajgurunagar to the district collectorate in Pune on Monday under the leadership of Raju Shetti, a Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangale constituency in Maharashtra and president of Swabhimani Paksha, a political front for farmers’ organization Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana. The protest march is expected to culminate in a public rally at the district collectorate in Pune.

KEIPL is a SPV floated by Bharat Forge and MIDC in which Bharat Forge owns 74% stake and MIDC owns 26% stake. The SPV was set up to develop multi product SEZ over 4,500 ha. at Rajgurunagar in Pune district. However only 1,700 ha.of land from four villages got acquired in 2008 and 2009 due to resistance by farmers. And subsequently Bharat Forge also lost interest in developing SEZ as in 2011-12 budget minimum alternate tax (MAT) and dividend distribution tax were imposed on developers of SEZ and also on corporations located in the SEZ.

In December last year, Board of Approval (BoA), which works under the aegis of ministry of commerce had given provisional approval for denotification of KEIPL’s SEZ. Now KEIPL will have to return whatever benefits they may have taken from various government departments for the SEZ. After these departments issue their no objection certificates, BoA will give its final approval for denotification of the SEZ, said a senior official from the industry department who did not wanted to be identified.

Shetti said, “Though Lok Sabha has passed the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) bill it is yet to be passed by Rajya Sabha, so as per provisions of existing Land Acquisition Act 2013, farmers should get their land back as it has not been used for intended purpose within five years. Farmers are ready to pay back compensation they received with the interest to promoters of the SEZ."

He also claimed that the state government has proposed to KEIPL that it will acquire land with KEIPL for the proposed airport for Pune as the current Pune airport operates from the air force base at Lohegaon and there are limitations on expansion of its operations.

But KEIPL which acquired the land at the rate of 17 lakhs per ha. in 2008 is demanding 4 crore per ha. from the government to sell back land for the airport. According to Shetti, the farmers are not against the airport. Their demand is that KEIPL should give the land back to the farmers and government should negotiate with farmers afresh for the airport.

However the earlier cited industry department official said, “Land was acquired under MIDC Act and not under Land Acquisition Act and that too before Land Acquisition Act was amended in 2013 which included provision to give back land to farmers if it is not used for intended within five years. As large number of SEZ projects in Maharashtra got stuck due to various issues and land acquired for these projects is lying idle, Maharashtra government came up with a policy of Integrated Industrial Area (IIA) Policy and KEIPL has already moved a proposal to convert SEZ into IIA."

In January 2013, the Maharashtra government came up with a new industrial policy under which the concept of IIA was introduced to give an exit route to companies who were no longer interested in developing the SEZ. Under IIA, 60% of land was to be used for industrial purposes, 30% of land for commercial purposes including residential housing projects and 10% of land for common infrastructure such as roads, schools, hospitals, and water and sewerage treatment plant among others. Nearly 10,000 ha. of land acquired for SEZs is lying idle in Maharashtra.

In an email response to Mint’s queries, a KEIPL spokesman said, “The reasons for delay in implementation of the project are well known. Government of Maharashtra’s Integrated Industrial Area policy which was announced as part of the New Industrial Policy in February 2013 which provides an exit option for de-notified / withdrawn SEZs is also understood to be under finalization. As a result we are experiencing renewed investor interest from domestic and global companies wanting to set up manufacturing facilities in Khed City."

“Our company is not in the airport business and as of now, we have no intention to enter this business," the statement added.

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