Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Oct 04, 2006
Agri-Biz & Commodities - Insight
Columns - Down to Earth
How farmers can reap benefits from SEZs
The Commerce Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, has been a champion of export-led growth that promotes employment. He recognises that industry is severely handicapped by the lack of infrastructure, dependable power and an environment conducive to enterprise.
Mr Kamal Nath knows what will give industry the growth thrust it badly needs but is painfully aware that these ingredients cannot be provided at one stroke. He, therefore, decided to go in for the Chinese approach set up special enclaves, where industrial units are provided all possible incentives.
The forerunner of such an enclave was the Export Processing Zone. But the EPZs did not promote exports significantly on account of the multiplicity of controls, the absence of world-class infrastructure and an unstable fiscal regime.
To correct the shortcomings of the EPZs, came the Special Economic Zone policy. This policy aimed to make the SEZs engines of economic growth, supported by quality infrastructure and complemented by an attractive fiscal package. With a plethora of sops the SEZs quickly became popular, especially after they came to be seen offering opportunities to develop the hinterland.
The compensation offered to the farmers was at the traditional level of 1 per cent of the price charged to the first industrial user. In some States, the farmers were even evicted. The opposition of the farmers was palpable first in Uttar Pradesh, then in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Then, the farmers of Maharashtra offered a solution. According to a recent survey, 40 per cent of the farmers wanted to quit agriculture. So, they need a land market that would match sellers and buyers. .
The farmers of Maharashtra suggested that
No farmer wishing to continue with agriculture, single or multiple crops, should be deprived of his land;
A farmer not wanting to continue with agriculture should have the freedom to sell his land at the best possible price to a purchaser of his choice; and
Anybody wanting to acquire a piece of land a farmer was willing to sell should match the best offer the latter had received. On September 17, the farmers of the Aurangabad region of Maharashtra organised a massive demonstration to protest against a covenant being signed between the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and an industrialist. The police arrested more than 80 farmers.
On that day, , the Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, warned farmer leaders against those provoking them into an agitation that was against farmer interest. He also promised them a good price for their land, jobs in industries that come up, etc. But no doubt to his dismay the very next day, the leader of his party, Ms Sonia Gandhi, advised Congress Chief Ministers to be cautious about depriving farmers of their land.
The Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has not been happy about the sops given to SEZs. Quickly sensing the direction of political wind, he reiterated this stand.
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, too , expressed serious doubts about the economic benefits of the SEZs, particularly their employment potential.
A basically sound idea is being destroyed. The very purpose of the SEZs seems getting lost because of those interested in grabbing valuable real-estate.
The issue could have been tackled in a straightforward manner. The affected farmers, for instance, could have been encouraged to form a development corporation, with their land as equity. This corporation could have helped to create infrastructure and sell the developed plots to the industrialists with the profits going to the farmer-shareholders.
This would have provided an additional advantage, inasmuch as it would have transformed immovable land into paying assets, the devolution of which cannot also be denied to the married daughters or to the widowed daughters-in-law staying with their parents.
This approach was tried 10 years ago, though not successfully, because of the opposition by the land-grab lobby in Maharashtra and the absence, at that time, of a law giving equal and coparcenary rights to women.
Mr Kamal Nath would do well to review the policy on SEZs.
(The author, Founder of the Shetkari Sanghatana, is a Rajya Sabha MP. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
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