Renewed thrust on SEZs needed; reform measures again at centre stage

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New Delhi, Jul 9 (UNI) With the change in the configuration of the government, reform-oriented measures again started picking steam with eminent experts and industrialists joining hands today calling for giving a big push to infrastructure-related activities entailing SEZs and arguing for a stable fiscal regime to go with it.

They also asked the government to bring out clear cut guidelines to give a boost to these islands intended for promoting exports.

The experts repeatedly cited the success story of China's SEZ and delved at length to explain why the model needs to be emulated.

China has been able to garner large amount of FDI flows, leapfrog its exports and make these as vehicles of growth and development.

In India, however, the SEZ story was one step forward and some steps backward.

Government and industry leaders were one at an international conclave here on 'Special Economic Zones (SEZs)', saying that rich agricultural land should not be diverted for this purpose and all means adopted to make SEZs an instrument of boosting exports and growth.

Those who took part in the event included Planning Commission Member Anwarul Hoda, Director in the Ministry of Commerce R K Mitra, Former ONGC Chairman Subir Raha, ASSOCHAM SEZ Council K K Jajodia and Raheja Developers Ltd Managing Director Navin Raheja.

Mr Hoda argued for greater governmental support for developing infrastructure within and outside the periphery of the SEZs. The SEZs cannot become competitive without a world class infrastructure to go with it.

Mr Hoda said the thrust of development in the future needs to be a higher level of industrialisation and urbanisation.

With an obvious reference to the political storm which surrounded the SEZ controversy, Mr Hoda warned that rich agricultural land should not be diverted for the purpose.

The government needs to ensure that SEZs are used as an instrument for boosting exports.

In short, the intent of Dr Hoda's remark was that SEZs should not be perceived as a largesse from the government to private parties.

Mr Raha, a Titain of the oil industry, made out a case for a stable fiscal regime which will support the developments of the SEZs.

He was of the view that SEZs have the potential to at tract a large chunk of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), an example of this being India's neigbour and many ways a competitor in international markets -- China.

Mr Jajodia called for greater Public-Private-Partnerships to prople SEZs, including development of the real estate asociated with the SEZs.

Mr Jajodia, who is Chairman of Assam Compnay Ltd, spoke about the high economic significance of the SEZs adding that they have resulted in 40-50 per cent growth in exports. The total investment involved in these projects was to the tune of about 50 billion dollars investment. Besides, the Export-Oriented Units (EOUs) have generated three lakh jobs by way of direct employment, not to speak of indirect employment.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was the key note speaker at the event, did not turn up as he was busy with hectic political activites in the capital.

Not surprisingly, there were no voices of dissent at the ASSOCHAM-organised conclave. The SEZ was in the eye of a political storm for various reasons, including lack of provision of fair compensation to the ousted Farmers and arable land being diverted for the development of the industry. The Standing Committee of Parliament, headed by Former Human Resource Development Murli Manohar Joshi, had made scathing criticism of the manner in which the SEZ concept was being implemented.

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