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Business as usual in Maharashtra

If politics is getting in the way of business in West Bengal and Goa, business is working very hard in Maharashtra to circumvent the politics, reports Sujata Anandan.

business Updated: Jan 03, 2008 22:56 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times

If politics is getting in the way of business in West Bengal and Goa, business is working very hard in Maharashtra to circumvent the politics.

While West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya bungled in Nandigram and has had to call off the acquisition of land for special economic zones (SEZs), Goa Chief Minister Digamber Kamat is running around in circles between

When tourists were asked to leave over Christmas and New Year by the Goa Movement against SEZs, which threatened violence, Kamat threw in the towel and said there will be no such economic zones in India's smallest state.

A few days later, however, Union commerce secretary Gopal Pillai put a spanner in the works saying what has been notified, stays notifed.

You cannot first build a house and then say it cannot be built, was how he put it. That means 3 of the 7 SEZs already notified in Goa would stay. The others, not yet notified, may not happen after all.

But while Kamat sorts out that one, Maharashtra's Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is like the cat who swallowed the cream on his own state's SEZs. "What's happening in Goa and Nandigram will never happen to us," he told

Hindustan Times

with supreme confidence.

That is because the chief minister cottoned on quite early to the pitfalls of acquiring land for industrialists. The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC), whose president Prabha Rau is also bitterly opposed to Deshmukh, decided to constitute a committee to study SEZs.

The report was submitted to party president Sonia Gandhi several months ago.

But while the MPCC might have thought it will trip the CM, Deshmukh was quick to accept what was good for him and decided to implement some of the recommendations. Accordingly, the Maharashtra government is not getting into the business of acquisitions. "Our role is limited to notification of the land to be converted into a SEZ according to the Centre's recommendations."

Now, whichever business house wishes to develop that land has to acquire it on its own. "But you cannot call it an acquisition. It is a case of outright sale and purchase," says Deshmukh. Many business houses, including the Tatas and Reliance, who have shown interest are now busy setting up the purchases. The Maharashtra government has set a minimum price for the sale of land in each zone. "The farmers are free to go as high as possible. We will intervene only if they are being done out of their dues. But there is no likelihood of that happening," says the chief minister.

Maharashtra, in any case, has a problem only in two areas where SEZs have been notified, notably Raigad district, abutting Mumbai and which interests Mukesh Ambani immensely, because land there is very fertile. "In most other areas, farmers are only too willing to sell, they are not passing up this opportunity of getting rid of land that is of no use to them."

The deftness with which Maharashtra has handled the situation has thus gone a long way in bringing it back into the reckoning as one of the leading states where business means business and politics does not spill blood on the streets.