Karnataka Congress in a bind over SEZ near Bangalore


Bangalore : The central government’s nod for a massive Special Economic Zone (SEZ) near Bangalore has put the opposition Congress party in Karnataka in a bind as it had stoutly opposed the proposal when the state government approved it in June.

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The multi-product SEZ at Nandagudi, about 60 km from here, is proposed on 12,500 acres of land and an estimated investment of Rs.150 billion is expected to flow into the project.

Land is to be acquired in 36 villages in the area for the SEZ being built by the Mumbai-based SKIL Infrastructure group.

The Congress party had severely criticised the ruling Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition for approving the project in spite of opposition from several government departments.

Since the Board of Approval (BOA), a central government body, gave its in-principle approval to the proposal Friday, the state unit of the Congress is working out ways to save its face but still continues opposing the project.

Nandagudi SEZ was among the several proposals that were cleared by the BOA, including Mukesh Ambani’s SEZ project in Navi Mumbai.

“Congress is not against development, not against SEZs but valuable agricultural land should not be acquired for them,” state Congress unit president Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters here Saturday.

“They (SEZs) should be set up in backward areas so that they generate employment opportunities there,” Kharge said.

He blamed the state government for “misleading” the central government by not informing it that valuable agricultural land will have to be acquired to form the Nandagudi SEZ.

The state Congress unit will write to the central government giving details of the kind of land that will be acquired for the SEZ and other problems the project will create.

Meanwhile the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML), which had started mobilising farmers in the Nandagudi area against the SEZ, will begin an agitation with demonstrations as it chalks out detailed plans for a prolonged campaign, V. Shankar, the party’s central committee member, said.

The state government has said that it will acquire only 4,000 acres to be given to the private developer who has to buy the rest of the land from farmers directly. This is being done to ensure that the farmers get the market price for the land, an official spokesperson said.

Land prices in and around Nandagudi in Hosakote taluk (taluk is a unit which consists of several villages) have gone through the roof as the area is just about 30 km from the new Bangalore International airport coming up at Devanahalli, 30 km from the city centre.

An acre of land, which five years back cost less than quarter of a million rupees, is now priced between Rs.4 million and Rs.5 million due to proximity to the upcoming international airport.

The SEZ proposal was cleared by the state cabinet in June though a section of senior officials concerned with the issue as well as coalition partner BJP were against it.

The reason for their stand against the SEZ is that Hosakote is already starved for water and an SEZ on such a massive scale will only worsen the situation not only in the area but in surrounding villages as well.