In what appears to be first such move by a state, Maharashtra, which has seen the most aggressive land acquisitions for Special Economic Zones (SEZ), is planning to introduce a SEZ Prevention of Land Speculation Bill to crack down on developers hoarding acquired land.
The state government has proposed that the land, if not developed within a certain time-frame, be acquired by the government and used for providing affordable housing.
This proposal has been outlined in the final draft housing policy that will be released by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis next month. The proposed Bill will allow the state government to serve a notice to all SEZ developers giving them 24 months to start the permitted activity that should be spread across more than 50 per cent of the total acquired land.
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If the developers fail to do this, the excess land will be acquired by the government at the same rate that was originally paid by developers to the landowners, according to the draft policy accessed by The Indian Express.
Over the last decade after the SEZ Act came into force, Maharashtra has seen a scramble by developers to create export-oriented enclaves, which enjoy various tax and other concessions or sops. The draft housing policy notes that much of the unutilised land was acquired close to urban centres with a significant portion of it being within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The draft policy notes, “SEZ developers are squatting on the land in the hope for selling the same as and when the market price improves. In effect most of the SEZ developers have indulged in speculation
of land without any concrete plan for setting up any SEZ project at all.”
The move is part of the state government’s attempt to ensure an adequate land bank to provide affordable housing in the state, which has an estimated shortage of 1.94 million houses.
Satish Gavai, Principal Secretary for Housing, said, “The law is very clear that land has to be put to use for the purpose for which it was acquired; they cannot continue to hoard land. We will circulate the draft policy to the industries department for their views as this will require legislation.”
According to data provided by the industries department, of the 139 applications for SEZ spread over 24,814 hectares of land in Maharashtra, a total of only 25 SEZs are operational across just 12 per cent of the land — 3,059 hectares. As many as 69 SEZs, stretching over 10,000 hectares, have been denotified or withdrawn. Several of the SEZs that have been notified by the Central government once the entire land acquisition process was completed are yet to begin operations.
Some of the largest notified SEZs in this category include the 1,006-hectare Indiabulls Industrial Infrastructure ltd SEZ at Nashik, which was approved in 2009 and the 1,632 hectares Navi Mumbai SEZ Pvt Ltd promoted by Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani and Anand Jain, which was approved in non-contiguous parcels between 2007 and 2009.
Industries Minister Subhash Desai said as long as developers were given a stipulated time to create SEZs, the department was open to allowing the unutilised land to be used for housing.
“The location of the land, its connectivity and accessibility to work place are important if it is to be used for housing development. With only 25 SEZs operational in Maharashtra, there is a huge chunk of remaining land available for this purpose,” said Desai.