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How Goa CM persuaded Centre to halt SEZ plans

January 08, 2008 14:42 IST

When Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat came to Delhi last week, he was in a "dangerous" mood. The Congress had to struggle to form a government after the Assembly elections in November last year (the party got 16 seats and the BJP got 14, with two seats being held by Independents). And now, the Kamat government was being threatened by a popular movement he has no control over.

When he was in Goa on December 27 and 28, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had got a taste of Kamat's mood: the CM had told him that if the Centre did not cancel the Special Economic Zones that the government had cleared for Goa, he would be looking at Kamat's resignation.

To emphasise the point, Kamat arrived in Delhi to petition the party -- only to find Congress President Sonia Gandhi in hospital because of a chest infection.

There was no door Kamat did not knock. "I can quit and return home. But I will not fight my own people," he told political advisor to Congress President, Ahmad Patel.

This was a conundrum the party had not expected. Goa has always seen unstable politics. Did the party really want to push Kamat against the ropes and risk losing the state to the BJP? All because of SEZs?

According to party sources, the electoral debacles of the Congress in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh did not help.

Commerce Secretary Gopal Pillai only stated the law of the land when he said that once notified, there was no provision in the SEZ Act to denotify an SEZ.

Kamat was so angry with the commerce secretary that he told party general secretary in charge of Goa, Margaret Alva, to convey to Gandhi that "if the Centre wants an SEZ so badly, let it send paramilitary forces to the state and take over the land".

The Goa CM also pointed out that most of the land in the state was owned by local communities and most of the community leaders had informed him they did not want to sell their lands to developers for SEZs.

During his stay in Delhi, Kamat met every Congress leader who would meet him, to lobby against the SEZ proposal. He also said in his meetings in New Delhi that the commerce ministry's announcement that the SEZ would provide 10 lakh (10, 00,000) jobs had created further problems in the state.

According to Kamat, "The state's population is 9 lakh (9, 00,000). So when there is talk of 10 lakh (10, 00,000) jobs, it makes local people fearful that outsiders might come and take control of their land."

Kamat managed to persuade the party but the Congress is in a fix over at least one of the three SEZs, which had the final approval and where construction had started. This is the IT SEZ.

The foundation stone of this complex was laid by none other than Sonia Gandhi last year. Now Congress managers and the local government are struggling to find some convincing explanation to cancel something for which the green signal was given by no less than the Congress President.
BS Reporter in New Delhi
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