SC notice to Centre, states on plea seeking return of unused land for SEZ

The Supreme Court today issued notice to the central government on a public interest petition alleging that the big corporates are using the SEZ law to get loans from banks instead of starting industries in the acquired land. The modus operandi is this: First, the developers approach the central government for approval of the SEZ project in their favour. Then they move the state government to acquire the land.

After getting the relevant notification to get the land the developers wait for some time for the land prices to escalate. Then they go to the banks and mortgage the land as collateral to get loans for their own business. The land is not utilised for the purpose for which it was acquired. The bench presided over by Chief Justice J S Khehar asked the government to respond to the complaint of the SEZ Farmers Protection and Welfare Association and its prayer to prosecute the developers who misused the law.

The farmers also want the land to be returned to them. According to the farmers, about 50,000 hectares were acquired all over the country under the 2005 SEZ law but only about 360 hectares have been used for the purpose for which they were acquired. Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, representing the farmers, said that though land in several states have been subject to the developers' strategy, the cases of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal were more prominent, the loans obtained amounting to Rs 6,309 crore.

Counsel quoted the CAG status report relating to 2012-13, which said that land acquired for "public purpose" was subsequently diverted, sometimes 100 per cent, after the notification. The national auditor remarked that only a fraction was used for SEZ purposes.

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