Friday, June 5, 2009

Mukesh Ambani's SEZ project in trouble

Leading industrialist Mukesh Ambani's dream project of setting up a special economic zone (SEZ) over 10,000 hectares in Raigad near Mumbai at a cost of Rs.400 billion is in jeopardy as the Supreme Court Friday refused to extend the deadline for land acuisition.

A bench of Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy and Justice Aftab Alam dismissed a lawsuit by Mumbai SEZ Ltd aimed at extending the June 8 deadline for acquiring land for the project.

Mumbai SEZ Ltd is jointly promoted by Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries and his associate Anand Jain.

The bench said it was not inclined to interfere with the Bombay High Court order, which had refused to stay the land acquisition process initiated by the Maharashtra government in June 2005 for the SEZ.

As per the law, the requisite land had to be acquired within two years of the notification.

But the Raigad district administration and Reliance have failed to acquire the land despite two extensions to the deadline. The latest deadline expires June 8.

Mumbai SEZ Ltd last month moved the Bombay High Court, seeking a direction to the Raigad district administration to speed up land acquisition initiated under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1984.

Alternatively, it had sought suspension of the land acquisition process so that the deadline might become redundant and could later be extended.

But the high court asked Mumbai SEZ Ltd to move the Supreme Court where several other lawsuits relating to land acquisition for various SEZ projects were pending.

Senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, appearing for Mumbai SEZ Ltd, sought the suspension of the land acquisition proceedings initiated as per the legal notification.

He contended that Reliance had already invested Rs.60 billion in the project and if the acquisition was not completed by June 8, the entire process would lapse under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

But the apex court refused to accede to the request.

The project faced rough weather as farmers of 22 villages opposed the land acquisition process in a referendum initiated by the state government last year. Its outcome, however, is not legally binding.

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