Reliance wants more time for Haryana special zone: Chief minister

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh : Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries has asked for a two-year extension to launch its $5-billion special economic zone near Gurgaon, Haryana Chief Minister Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said here Wednesday.

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The group had floated a company named Reliance Ventures and signed an pact with the the state government’s Haryana Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corp in June 2006 for forming a joint venture called Reliance Haryana Special Economic Zone.

But the promoters have sought some more time to complete the process to acquire the land for the 12,000-acre project, originally planned in an area of 25,000 acres, to be set up near Gurgaon along the Delhi-Jaipur National Highway.

“Reliance has sought two years for the completion of the process. The project will come up. The delay has been due to the economic meltdown,” Hooda told IANS in an exclusive interview here.

“We understand the problem is due to the economic meltdown. This will be overcome in some time,” the chief minister added, virtually recommending the grant of extension to the federal government’s commerce and industry ministry.

This is the third extension sought by the group and is expected to be considered at the next meeting of the board of approvals on special economic zones, chaired by Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar at a meeting scheduled Aug 11, officials said.

According to these officials dealing with the project, Reliance Industries was to bring an investment of Rs.250 billion ($5 billion) for the project, its largest so far outside western India.

The mega-project, touted to be the biggest of its kind at that time, had a 90 percent stake from Reliance while the state agency holding the rest. The deal was signed in the presence of Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani and chief minister Hooda in June 2006.

“The Reliance people are not showing much interest in the project any longer. The whole delay is at their end,” an official of the state agency in Gurgaon told IANS, requesting anonymity.

After the central government capped all special economic zone projects to 12,000 acres two years ago, the Reliance project in the state got stuck in the slow lane. The global economic meltdown in early 2008 further put the project in limbo, the official added.

Former member of parliament and Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi, also the younger son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal, had been critical of the Reliance project right from the beginning – even claiming that the company was not serious about the project.

Sources in the Haryana government said Reliance had been able to acquire only over 1,200 acres of land near Garhi Harasu village, the site of the project. The state agency has transferred some 330 acres for the project as its share.

But Reliance is facing problems in acquiring additional land owing to high prices and opposition from a section of farmers around Gurgaon and Jhajjar districts of Haryana where the project has been slotted.

Hooda, however, said his government was offering the highest land acquisition prices in the country to farmers so that they are not only satisfied but make adequate monetary gain for parting with their immovable asset.

The project was to create nearly 500,000 direct and indirect jobs. However, the economic slowdown last year forced Reliance to terminate the services of the people hired for the project, officials said.

The multi-product zone has provisions for a cargo airport and a 2,000-MW power plant and Reliance was to rope in some global players, including some Fortune-500 companies, for the project.

The project was to also to have companies in fields of nano-technology, bio-technology and agro-industries to set up their facilities.