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Mukesh Ambani’s SEZ project scrapped


MUMBAI, February 20 (Agencies): Maharashtra government has ordered that no more land would be acquired for the proposed  Mukesh Ambani-promoted MahaMumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ), virtually hammering the last nail in the coffin of one of the country’s biggest SEZ plans. 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. On hearing news of the government’s Friday resolution, farmers in the Pen, Panvel and Uran talukas burst crackers in celebration.
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 the Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) Group chairman. All land acquired by the government in the past is also to be returned. 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. But that decision has to be taken only by the Central government.
The project could survive only if its promoters manage to privately acquire the land needed, but state government sources said this seemed very unlikely. 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 his ministry had de-notified land acquisition for the MahaMumbai SEZ. RIL Group sources have said the project was being undertaken by Ambani in his personal capacity and was not a scheme of the group.
After the government initiated the land-acquisition process, thousands of farmers opposed the SEZ saying that fertile, irrigated land was being acquired and this was 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 approved 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 project was calculated at around Rs 75,000 crore with 20 lakh people directly or indirectly employed. Some sources said the project could have had the potential to wipe out 20% of Maharashtra’s unemployment. Mukesh Ambani has also planned an SEZ near Gurgaon and Jhajjar, that some have billed as the country’s largest. However, that project too is mired in regulatory and funding issues.