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Exclusive: MP farmers to Rahul Gandhi: Correct mistakes of Chhindwara SEZ

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New Delhi, March 7: Farmers of Madhya Pradesh have expressed hope that the Congress President Rahul Gandhi will correct mistakes of the Chhindwara Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Congress President Rahul Gandhi

Thousands of farmers of Tehsil Sausar of District Chhindwara have been running from pillar to post from last 11 years to get back their land from a company called Chhindwara Plus Developers Limited, which they accuse of purchasing thousands of acres of their fertile land in the name of setting up the SEZ since 2007 at throwaway prices.

Since the Congress came to power in Madhya Pradesh and waived off loans of small farmers, the affected farmers have become hopeful of getting justice.

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Talking to One India, an affected farmer Nandkishore Dhoble alleged that Chhindwara SEZ is a crystal-clear example of unholy nexus between government officials and the concerned company to grab fertile land of the farmers in the name of SEZ.

"Almost over 11 years have passed but not a single industrial unit has been set up in the said SEZ, but the company has managed to purchase around 6000 acres of farmers' land between 2007-13 at throwaway prices by using dubious tactics," alleges Dhoble.

Interestingly, it was during Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath 's tenure as Union Commerce and Industries Minister, the company had got in principle approval in 2007 for one year to set up the SEZ in Sausar.

It is notable that Chhindwara Lok Sabha is considered Kamal Nath's bastion.

One India is in possession of the Government of India's 'in-principle' approval letter No F.2/718/2006-SEZ Dated July 30, 2007.

Clause (i) of the letter asked the company to submit a suitable proposal within one year along with proof of land possession/ leasehold rights, updated project report and checklist.

It further adds that "The applicant should be in possession of the identified area either by way of ownership, or by way of leasehold rights valid for twenty years or more on the date of application".

Clause (ix) had the provision of granting an extension of in-principle approval "with valid reasons and details of steps taken for implementation".

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Thereafter, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Madhya Pradesh Trade and Investment Facilitation Corporation Limited and Chhindwara Plus Developers Private Limited on October 27, 2007, to set up SEZ at Sausar.

Dhoble alleges after signing of the MOU, the company and some corrupt government officials via touts started spreading rumours that the government has declared SEZ and require land for the same and land of those people will be acquired forcibly by the government who will not sell their land.

"Company started purchasing land at its whims and fancies from different farmers at different prices. Till now, the company has got many extensions of 2007 in-principle approval and has managed to purchase around 6000 acres of land by flouting SEZ rules," Dhoble said, adding that the office of Sub- Registrar, Sausar, also waived off the stamp duty on the land purchased by the company.

He has substantial documentary evidence, obtained through the Right to Information Act, which suggests how the said SEZ became an alibi of purchasing agriculture land by flouting government rules and regulations under the then Congress-ruled central government and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh.

The RTI replies (copies of the same are with One India) reveal that no government order was issued for exempting the stamp duty and the company was not authorised to get directly involved in the land purchase process.

For example, Inspector General of Registration, Madhya Pradesh, in an RTI reply on July 4, 2018, informed Dhoble that no order was issued by Sub-Registrar, Sausar, to exempt stamp duty for the purchases made by Chhindwara Plus Developers Private Limited.

Surprisingly, Sub-Registrar, Sausar signed a sale-deed of 1.254 hectares of agricultural land belonging to one Pandhari Maroti Bhumar in favour of Chhindwara Plus Developers Private Limited on August 17, 2018, that clearly mentioned at the top that the sale of the land was exempted from Stamp Duty. The said land was sold for Rs. 10,50,600.00.

Interestingly, the said company had also moved the Jabalpur High Court in 2017 to get a stay against the erection of high-tension electricity poles and lines by the Power Grid Corporation on its said SEZ land.

During the hearing, the counsel of the respondent informed the court that the subject SEZ has been issued a formal approval for setting up the multi-product SEZ, which is yet to be finally notified.

The counsel had argued that under Section 11 of the SEZ Act no Development Commissioner has been appointed till date, therefore, the provisions of SEZ Act would not be applicable in the case of the petitioner (Chhindwara Plus Developers Private Limited).

Single Bench of Justice Ms.Vandana Kasrekar passed an order on July 4, 2017, and granted permission to the Power Grid to erect high-tension electricity poles & lines in the Chhindwara SEZ.

It was also revealed during this case that the company had got final approval to set up SEZ on August 29, 2016. The said approval is valid for a period of three years, i.e August 29, 2019. But, the villagers tell One India that not a single industry has been set up in the said SEZ.

They also express surprise that without developing the SEZ how come the company is successful in getting extensions after extensions.

They have demanded Congress President Rahul Gandhi to intervene in the matter and direct Kamal Nath to take necessary steps to correct mistakes of the Chhindwara SEZ.

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