THE GOVERNMENT is injecting a dose of moderation into its special economic zones policy, especially concerning the acquisition of agricultural land.
On Monday, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told the Hindustan Times from Mumbai: "The Board of Approval (BoA) for SEZs has made it mandatory that no proposal for setting up SEZs on prime agricultural land be cleared."
He said state governments should not get into land acquisition for SEZs by private players. Representatives of state governments were present at the BoA meeting held on September 21.
At the recently concluded Congress chief ministers' conclave in Nainital, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had warned against the diversion of farm land for non-agriculture uses. "Prime agriculture land should not normally be diverted to non-agricultural uses," said Sonia. "Industry requires land but this must be done without jeopardising agricultural prospects."
Sources said the Commerce Ministry might work on a clarification notification relating to land-acquisition norms, pricing, compensation and rehabilitation if the acquisition of farmland for developing SEZs becomes inevitable.
A top Commerce Ministry official said the ministry was looking at "giving a stake to farmers in SEZ projects against the land acquired by developers of these zones". In Pune, NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said the government's idea of acquiring agricultural land at government rates was not good. "The concept of economic development by putting the farmers out on the streets is not welcome," he said. "At present, the government decides the rates, dispossessing farmers of their land, which creates misgivings between different parties."
Pawar was not in favour of state governments deciding the price at which farmers sell land to private companies. "Actually, it should be between the industrialists and the farmers," he said. "If at all the government is involved, then it should ensure that the farmers get rightful compensation and also some share (at least 12.5 per cent) of the developed land."