It is a subject on which the UPA government is divided. Everybody has his or her own views on the controversial issue of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ). If the disinvestment was the most debated subject during the NDA government, SEZ is turning out to be the most contentious matter for the Manmohan Singh government, which has so far totally failed to send out any clear policy statement. Interestingly, while the Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram settle their scores out in the open, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi have given confusing signals. Smt Gandhi'sremarks on SEZ were as flip-flops as the views of the Prime Minister. They want to enjoy support of farmers but would not like to rub the powerful and moneyed industrialists on the wrong side. Thanks to a boom in the property market, the real estate lobby has become one of the most influential centres in government corridors.
In the name of SEZs, they want to go in for a kill; grab the land at a dirt-cheap price, then launch a multi-crore advertisement campaign and fleece the unsuspecting middle-class people. Government loses revenue by way of tax concessions, farmer loses land, buyers get fleeced but the builders gain a hefty cut along with some corrupt politicians, who are hand in glove with the real estate lobby. By the last count, close to 175 SEZs have been approved by the Board of Approvals in the Commerce Ministry. An investment of over of Rs 100,000 crore has been talked about with all kinds of promises. Whether such investment would materialise or not can be made out from the condition of a piece of land in Nanguneri in south of Tamil
Nadu. A foundation stone for a multi-billion dollar SEZ was laid when the late Murasoli Maran was the Commerce Minister at the Centre. One could see cows grazing in the area in the Tirunelveli district even today.
Lack of clarity on the part of the government is not only disturbing for the farmers but also for those of the industrialists who are well-meaning and really want to set up units in these SEZs. The flip-flop on the part of Smt Gandhi and the Prime Minister does not send any encouraging messages. One day in Nainital the Congress President talks about the need for ensuring that the land does not go to SEZs; next day she clarifies that what she meant was fertile land.
Within the ministries, there is no clarity as to what would be considered fertile land and what would be the barren land. Certainly, in many of the areas identified for SEZs, the land is certainly fertile. Take for instance area between Gurgaon and Jhajjar districts of Haryana earmarked for Rs 40,000 crore Reliance SEZ. This land produces more than two crops a year and certainly cannot be counted as barren land.
At the national level, despite huge amount of investment intentions made by the industry, no policy towards land acquisition has been initiated. There is no denying the fact that the people have to be moved away from the agriculture because this sector cannot absorb so many of us. But then, what about the rehabilitation of the displaced people. Should they not be made the stakeholders and partners in progress. After all, the government never gets tired of talking about the inclusive growth. When it comes to ground reality, policies are quite exclusive for the builders who are advertising for sale of flats and villas for mind-blowing prices of Rs six to eight crore.