The empowered Group of Ministers’ balancing act of clearing 83 special economic zones and capping the land limit to 5,000 hectares has failed to satisfy the Left parties which are battling the fallout of the SEZ policy in Nandigram.
The Centre had sought this middle ground to try and balance the political pressure from its Left allies, which want a change in the land acquistion act to ensure that agitations like the one in Nandigram did not recur with the demands of other state governments which wanted to proceed with the setting up of SEZs with adequate safeguards. They included the Tamil Nadu government.
Even West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been keen on it ---a fact that came out when he recently met Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
As the leader of the Left Front in West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), however, intends to thoroughly study the eGoM’s decision before coming out with a formal reaction on Friday. ``There are lots of aspects that we need to look into, including the issue of tax concessions. We will come out with a detailed reaction tomorrow,’’ said Prakash Karat, CPM general secretary.
But the Communist Party of India—which had taken on the CPM on the Nandigram issue--- was quick to ``condemn’’ the eGoM’s decision and vowed to intensity its struggle. ``This is an open declaration of acquiring huge tracts of agricultural land despite all earlier pretentions that they will exercise caution and give a fresh look at the issue. They have carried on as before and yielded to the demands of land grabbing entrepreneurs. To put the cap on 5000 hectares amounts to declaring that the sky is the limit for land to be grabbed whether with or without the government’s direct help,’’ the party said in a statement.
According to the party, the promise of a job for one member of a family that will be displaced was a ``mockery of the rehabilitation process.’’ Likewise, the provision that 50 per cent of the land should be used for the project amounted to throwing dust in the eyes of the people, it alleged.
Congressmen, however, were confident that the eGoM’s decision was in line with the benchmark set by party president Sonia Gandhi during the Congress Chief Ministers’ conclave at Nainital last September. Sonia has said that SEZs should not be set up on agricultural land, farmers should be adequately compensated for their land and made stakeholders in the project set up on their land.
``It is not the concept of SEZ which is questioned or questionable but its application and scope. The Congress remains the first party to insist on and stipulate valuable safeguards,’’ said spokesman Abhishek Singhvi.
His colleague Verappa Moily, on his part, believes that there should be no problem in clearing those SEZs where land acquisition is not an issue. He had earlier sent a note to Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the eGoM---alongwith copies to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia---emphasising the need to recast the antiquated Land Acquisition Act and hammer out an effective relief and rehabilitation policy where land is an issue.
Like the CPM, the BJP, too, said it will come out with a studied reaction later. But the party’s stand until now has been that SEZs should not be set up on agricultural land and farmers should be properly compensated for the land that is acquired from them.