Parliamentarians’ Forum on Economic Policy Issues (PAR-FORE) under the auspices of CUTS International, Jaipur, Rajasthan was organised at Council for Social Development (CSD), Lodhi Estate, New Delhi on 3rd May, 2007 held a discussion on ‘Assessment of the Potential Costs and Benefits of Special Economic Zones in India’. Dr. P. C. Alexander, member, Rajya Sabha, chaired the discussion. Initiating the discussion Mr. Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS introduced the subject and referred to the study recently undertaken by CUTS.
Most participants were in favour of the policy of SEZs but cautioned that concerns of various stakeholders must be adequately addressed before any land acquisition takes place. Majority of parliamentarians called for a revamp of SEZ policy to ensure inclusive growth and peace in the country.
Chairing the meet Dr. Alexander remarked that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should be given enough space in these SEZs as they are generating more employment and tax revenue. He further added that the social consequences of land acquisition should be adequately attended to.
While criticizing the large size SEZ with 50% (earlier 65%) of non-processing area and perpetual ownership of such lands in the hands of developers, Mr. Santosh Bagrodia, (INC), said that it would lead to rebirth of ‘Zamindari’ system in the country. He was opposed to granting large-scale tax benefits to the industrial units established in SEZs as it could lead to tax revenue loss without giving rise to adequate employment and export generation.
Commenting on the issue Mr. Dinesh Trivedi, (AITC)l Congress emphasized that prosperity can take place only when there is peace. There should not be any land grabbing and forceful evacuation of farmers from their lands, not even by the state government. While supporting the SEZ policy he advocated for farmers to be made partners in progress.
Mr. Rahul Bajaj, Member, Rajya Sabha advocated for balanced regional development through dispersal of industries across the length and breadth of the country. He said that SMEs be given adequate attention. To avoid the risk of conversion of SEZs into real estate business he strongly argued for having at least 75%, if not 90% of the total area of SEZ as processing one.
Mr. Sharad Joshi, (SBP) was of the opinion that though farmers love their lands but in today’s changed circumstances they are ready to sell their land for their own betterment. If given the option to sell their land, which amounts to their voluntary retirement from farming and by employing them in industrial activities in SEZs, they will have a better living. Moreover, to protect the interest of the farmers the land should be acquired through competitive bidding.
Mr. M. V. Rajasekharan, Minister of State for Planning, Government of India said that food security be given the topmost priority as even a miniscule drop in the food production could affect the people. He felt that the SEZ Act in its present form cannot be accepted and should be redrafted to prevent agriculture land being acquired for SEZs. He also referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s approach of ‘there go my people and I follow them’, thus putting the people in the centre of everything you do.
Mr. Gireesh Kumar Sanghi, Member, Rajya Sabha, while stressing on the need for SEZs in the progress of the country, pointed out that due to SEZs farmers are receiving the right price for their land. He was of the opinion that land should be acquired with consensus and not forcefully.
Other eminent participants include Shri Suresh Prabhu (SS) and B. K. Subbaiya, Mahindra World City , Jaipur.