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HC ruling spells trouble for SEZ .........Prafulla Marpakwar
Mumbai: A day after the Bombay high court disposed of a writ petition filed by Reliance’s Mahamumbai SEZ, the fate of the Rs 40,000 crore project hangs in balance as the on-going protest movement has gained momentum. 

   “Despite the fact that the apex court is seized of the row over SEZ projects, the Mahamumbai SEZ had approached the high court for relief. Their plea was disposed of without any relief, so now they will have to approach the apex court,’’ said Sunil Dighe, lawyer for the anti-SEZ action committee. 

   As per the norms prescribed by the board of approvals set up by the ministry of commerce, once an SEZ proposal is approved, the land acquisition process has to be completed within two years. In case of the Mahamumbai SEZ, approval for the project was given in June 2005 and it was given two extensions to acquire land. “The deadline for land acquisition expires on June 9, 2009. Since the farmers are not willing to part with their lands, Reliance will not be able to meet the deadline. So we demand that the Centre should scrap the project,’’ Dighe said. 

   A week ago, the Mahamumbai SEZ had filed a writ petition before the HC, saying it should direct the Raigad district administration to complete the land acquisition proceedings initiated under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1984, by making the awards in respect of lands where no objections were raised or where the land owners have consented for the acquisition of land. 

   Responding to the Mahamumbai petition, special land acquisition officer S W Bodhe said, “The collector will be able to make an award for land acquisition according to the terms of such agreement only after satisfying himself that the persons interested—the land owners, have appeared before him and they have agreed to the terms of such agreement. I state that unless these conditions are fulfilled, the collector will not be able to make an award,’’ Bodhe said. 

   Significantly, soon after the board of approval granted permission for the Raigad SEZ project, the anti-SEZ action committee had filed a PIL before the high court in January 2007, challenging the constitutional validity of the SEZ Act. 

   Even as the PIL was pending in the high court, Mahamumbai SEZ moved the apex court, saying that since petitions challenging the SEZ policy were pending before the high courts of Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, New Delhi and Haryana,all these cases should be clubbed together. “In view of the Mahamumbai SEZ plea, the entire issue is now pending before the apex court,’’ Dighe said. 

   Mahamumbai SEZ had submitted a proposal for setting up a multiproduct SEZ in Raigad district in 2003. It was proposed to acquire land in 45 villages. As the project gained momentum, the anti-SEZ committee launched an agitation, prompting the then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh to hold a referendum in 22 villages in the catchment area of the Hetwane dam in Raigad. Though it was held on September 22, 2008, collector Nipun Vinayak, who had promised to declare the outcome within a week, has so far not declared the opinion of the farmers.