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No going back on SEZs: Nath

Unfazed by Nandigram violence, the minister says UPA is committed to SEZs.
PTI | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 17, 2007 10:20 PM IST

Unfazed by Nandigram violence and political concerns, the Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said on Saturday that the UPA government remains committed to the Special Economic Zones with full backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"They (Nandigram and political concerns) have not put me off and the government is absolutely committed," he said in an interview to a TV news channel.

When asked whether he enjoyed the support of the Prime Minister, Nath replied, "of course, the (whole) government is committed."

The minister was confident that Empowered Group of Ministers headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would go ahead with clearing the SEZ cases where there was no land dispute.

"Of course there is a fear now where land acquisition is concerned... But where there is no land in dispute why should we be worried," he said.

Nath said the land acquisition must be transparent and he was "personally in favour of giving farmers a stake in the development that comes up on their land in addition to the market price".

He said the new National Rehabilitation Policy was likely to include a provision for making farmers stake holders in the development.

"The New Land Acquisition Policy is looking at all these things and which ever it happens, whether by giving him (the farmer) a job or a stake... He must be part and parcel of new development," he said.

"It is an Act of Parliament. The Cabinet has considered it... Nandigram was a very unfortunate incident of land acquisition and we must not confuse the land acquisition with SEZ. They are two distinct things," he said.

However, Nath was concerned that if clearances on SEZs were not forthcoming many investors might opt out of India.

"Of course I am worried. There is investment competitiveness from Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.. Investment has to be attracted it cannot be demanded," he said.

Nath refuted claims by the Finance Ministry that SEZs could lead to revenue loss of Rs 100,000 crore over four years.

He said this was a distorted picture as the government was anyway refunding customs and excise on exports.

On FDI in retail, Nath said since the small retailers may be impacted, the big retail chains should be allowed only in the back-end.

"If Wal-Mart provides to every retailer good food products ... And if they put up packaging it strengthens my retailer," he said.

Nath denied there were differences on this issue between him and prime minister or UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

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