New `special economic zones’ should be put on hold till the SEZ Act and Rules were amended as the existing rules had failed to protect the farmers’ interests, a MPs’ panel said on Friday.
The panel suggested that SEZs should not be allowed to come up at the cost of agriculture, which could jeopardise the country’s food security. To ensure food security, the panel has sought a ban on SEZs coming up on irrigated, double-crop land.
It also suggested a ceiling of 5000 hectares on a multi-product SEZ on fallow land. And in places where is no alternative but to build an SEZ on cultivable land, the panel recommended that the land should be one-crop and the limit for a multi-product SEZ on it should be 2000 hectares. "It should be done with the state government’s permission," senior BJP leader, MM Joshi, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Commerce, said.
The Committee submitted the report titled `The Functioning of Special Economic Zones’ to the Rajya Sabha chairman on June 20. The 31-member Committee met for eight times since December 2005 and visited several SEZ sites before adopting the report on June 8. Hindustan Times had reported on the recommendations on June 12. <b1>
Joshi said, "food security of the country cannot be jeopardised; everything else can wait. Food production is stagnating since the 1970s. The Agriculture Ministry has said that cultivable land in the country is going down. In the NCR, cultivable land has gone down by 8 per cent in the last five years. Per capita cultivable land has gone down by from 0.27 hectare to 0.18 hectare in the last 10 years."
"The Committee feels that restriction on use of agricultural land for SEZ purposes should not be a matter of administrative advice or guideline. Rather, it should be clearly reflected in the SEZ Act and Rules made thereunder," the Committee noted.
Joshi added that land should be taken on lease from farmers so that their ownership is protected. Also, the system of "in-principle" approvals should be discontinued. "Applications should be considered by the Board of Approval only after obtaining inputs of state governments including those with regard to the type and quality of land," the Committee said.
A sub-committee formed out of the Standing Committee that visited a number of SEZ sites to interact with farmers were not allowed to meet them, especially in states like Haryana and Maharashtra. "The local administration was expected to facilitate the interactions. But in many places the farmers were stopped from meeting the committee members," Joshi said.