Thursday, March 29, 2007

Maha Mumbai SEZ may be cut to size



NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The government may ask Reliance Industries to scale
down the size of its proposed multi-product Maha Mumbai SEZ from 10,000
hectares to 5,000 hectares to avoid dislodging farmers and villagers
unwilling to relocate. The decision is expected to be taken at the next
meeting of the empowered group of ministers (eGoM) on SEZs.

With protests from farmer groups, political parties and small businesses
intensifying in the state, the government's proposal could be seen as an
attempt to prevent a repeat of the violence in West Bengal's Nandigram.

"If Reliance scales down its operations by half in Maha Mumbai, the
sensitive areas could be excluded from the zone and peace restored," the
official said. The Board of Approval for SEZs in an earlier meeting in
August last year had observed that land planned for building the Maha
Mumbai SEZ was much more than required.

With the situation hotting up, the EGoM headed by foreign minister
Pranab Mukherjee is expected to ask Reliance to reduce the size of the
SEZ, sources said. The date for the EGoM, which will also decide on the
future course of the SEZ policy, has not yet been firmed up. It is
widely speculated that the meeting will take place only after the UP
assembly elections are over.

There seem to be two compelling reasons for the Centre to revisit the
issue. The Board of Approvals had earlier washed its hands off the
issue. The Board categorically stated that it had indicated to the
Maharashtra government to review the size of RIL's SEZ after it received
a number of representations.

"However, the Maharashtra government has approved acquisition of over
10,000 hectares and that land being a state subject, it is the
prerogative of the state government concerned," the board had noted in
its meeting, squarely blaming the Congress-led Maharashtra government.

Politically, it was suicidal for Congress as it gave an impression that
though the Board was against RIL's mega-SEZ, the Vilasrao Deshmukh
government had facilitated the project. Ever since the state government
began facing flak for its SEZ-friendly image, the Congress had, on
sensing public mood, dispatched a fact-finding committee on Wednesday to
meet the SEZ-affected people in Raigad district.

Another reason, according to highly placed sources, is the opposition to
the company in some of the villages. Of the 45 villages from the three
talukas of Pen, Uran and Panvel to be acquired, the company was finding
it particularly difficult to deal with 20 from Uran taluka.
These politically-active villages have been leading the campaign against
the SEZ. It was here that the Congress faced humiliating defeat in the
recent zilla parishad elections. The volatile political situation and
violent protests had forced the company to think of redrawing its SEZ
plan. "The company may delete 20 villages from Uran from its SEZ," a
high-level political functionary had recently told ET.

Last week, when hundreds of agitators, mostly farmers, blocked roads in
Raigad district in protest against the Maha Mumbai SEZ, chief minister
Vilasrao Desmukh promised that the government would not interfere in the
land acquisition process in Maharashtra.

The protestors, however, are continuing to keep up the pressure on the
state for withdrawing land acquisition notices issued to people in 45
villages falling in the Maha Mumbai SEZ. Apart from farmers, there are
businesses located in the zone, many servicing JNPT, who have refused to
be relocated. The protestors have planned another march on April 5 in

Reliance has received an in-principle approval for the Maha Mumbai SEZ.
A formal approval is given by the BoA only when all land-related
controversies are put to rest and the developer is in possession of the
entire land. Meanwhile, the Reliance group has come up with its own
relief and rehabilitation package for those to be displaced by the Maha
Mumbai SEZ.,curpg-2.cms


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