The recent decision by the state revenue department to denotify land earmarked for the proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ) promoted by Reliance Industries in Raigad has irked two Konkan ministers.
At the state Cabinet's weekly meeting on Wednesday, industries minister Narayan Rane and irrigation minister Sunil Tatkare made their displeasure evident when they asked revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat how he took the decision to denotify the land without consulting the Cabinet. Thorat had, on February 18, said that the state would denotify 16,900 acres of land earmarked for the project.
As industries minister, Rane has been pushing for more SEZs in the state, while Tatkare is the guardian minister of Raigad district where the Mumbai SEZ was to be set up.
The ministers said that the decision to denotify the land showed them in poor light since they have been defending the SEZ on behalf of the government despite huge opposition in their home turf. They said that they had supported the project because the government had always said that it brought much-needed investment and employment to the region.
"You can't just take a decision like this. The Cabinet should have been consulted," a senior Congress minister said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on what was discussed during the meeting. "Rane and Tatkare were upset because this decision reflects badly on them."
He said that both these ministers demanded to know why the revenue department had taken the decision in a hurry and why the chief minister endorsed it. Thorat explained that the decision was taken because the time limit for the acquisition procedure had lapsed and it was illegal to keep the land notified.
The government had earmarked 20,600 acres for acquisition for the Reliance SEZ in 2006, despite protests from local farmers. The denotification of the land is a victory for the farmers but has caused the state, which was marketing the SEZ, embarrassment.
Responding to questions on this failed acquisition policy, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said: "We will take a call on the overall SEZ policy looking at all these issues." He indicated that the draft SEZ bill pending before the state legislature would be reviewed. Maharashtra has always taken pride in having the highest number of proposed SEZs, but in the last three years many of these have backed out or are facing opposition from landowners. The state has 104 approved SEZs, of which 63 have been notified.