MahaMumbai SEZ dumped ?

The Maharashtra government ended its land acquisition process for the proposed MahaMumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ), giving a major jolt to one of the country’s biggest SEZ plans. The state issued a government resolution de-notifying the land acquisition process for the SEZ, clearly indicating that it would not acquire any more land for the SEZ promoted by Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) Group chairman Mukesh Ambani. All land acquired by the government in the past is also to be returned. On hearing newsof the government’s resolution, farmers in the Pen, Panvel and Uran talukas burst crackers in celebration. With a majority of farmers opposed to surrendering their land and a further extension required to keep the project going, it is now possible that the entire MahaMumbai SEZ plan would be scrapped. However, that decision has to be taken only by the central government. The project could sail through only if its promoters manage to privately acquire the land needed, but state government sources said that this seemed like a distinct impossibility. Private acquisitions made till now have not been affected by the government order. Ambani and his close aide Anand Jain have been prime promoters of the project. Maharashtra revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat confirmed that that his ministry has de-notified land acquisition for the MahaMumbai SEZ. The SEZ was planned across 10,000 hectares and land in 83 villages of the Pen, Panvel and Uran talukas in Raigad district were to be acquired. Meanwhile, RIL Group sources said the project was being undertaken by Ambani in his personal capacity and not a scheme of the group. After the government had initiated the land-acquisition process, thousands of farmers opposed the SEZ saying that fertile, irrigated land was being acquired, which is not allowed under the SEZ Act. The Mahamumbai SEZ Sangharsh Samiti has already filed a petition in court challenging the project. Around 1,000 hectares of land have been privately acquired from farmers, with which a small SEZ could be constructed along with the ongoing Navi Mumbai SEZ project. Jain is chairman of the Navi Mumbai SEZ Pvt Ltd. However, social activist Ulka Mahajan said the farmers who sold land to the MahaMumbai SEZ have also approached the court and indicated their readiness to return the money. The project was given approval in 2005. The SEZ was to be built between the upcoming Navi Mumbai airport and Pen towards the south and Uran towards the west. Ambani had projected an investment of Rs 35,000 crore over a period of 10 to 12 years. The export potential of the entire projectwascalculated at around Rs 75,000 crore with 20 lakh people directly or indirectly employed. Some sources said the project has the potential to wipe out 20% of the state’s unemployment. The Navi Mumbai SEZ project on 2,200 hectares of land near Uran is already going on in partnership with Cidco, the state agency. Social workers like Mahajan and Sudhakar Patil, who were leading the agitation against the MahaMumbai SEZ, have expressed their happiness and wished for the entire project to be scrapped. Lawyer Sunil Dighe, who is fighting for project affected persons, said the development should serve as a lesson.

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