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Amidst row over MSME ordinance, Assam denies selling land resources

Amidst widespread protests against a proposed ordinance to allow conversion of land without multiple clearances from authorities for setting up Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the Assam government on Friday denied allegations that it was planning to "sell off" the state's land resources.

Amidst row over MSME ordinance, Assam denies selling land resources
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal (Photo: PTI)


Various political parties, tribal and social organisations, and students' bodies, including the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU), launched agitations after the cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, on June 29 approved the "MSME Ordinance".

The ordinance, when promulgated, would allow investors to set up MSMEs without any hurdle and without multiple clearances of land from different authorities.

Industry and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary on Friday said that the reactions on the proposed ordinance might be because no one has seen its proposals, which, he sought to clarify, did not touch tribal blocks and areas, reserve forests and eco-sensitive regions.

"Hazardous units would not be allowed to be set up. The ordinance was aimed to facilitate generation of jobs to the state's 20 lakh registered unemployed as well as some 3.5 lakh people who have been jobless since returning from other parts of India before and during the Covid-19 lockdown," he clarified.

Patowary said that under the proposed MSME Ordinance, maximum quantum of investment would be Rs 50 crore for medium, Rs 10 crore for small and Rs one crore for micro industrial units. He said only few states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka have brought out such ordinance and acts to facilitate setting up of MSMEs.

"This Ordinance will not affect the land rights of indigenous people of Assam as protected by the Assam Agricultural Land (Regulation of Reclassifications and Transfer for Non-Agricultural Purpose) Act 2015," he said.

Noting that due to the pandemic, the state's economy has been adversely affected and business environment depressed, the Minister said that in such situations, the ordinance would create a conducive environment, drive domestic growth, attract investment and accelerate industrial development in the state.

The opposition Congress, however, said that they were not convinced by the government clarifications. State Congress President Ripun Bora said that the easy transfer of land for industrial purposes would effortlessly allow major investors. "The ordinance would go against the very interest of the indigenous people," he argued.

The All Indian United Democratic Front President and Lok Sabha Member Maulana Badruddin Ajmal also criticised the ordinance as a ploy to sell off large areas of Assam's land resources to corporate houses posing as MSME aspirants.

Agitators from the AASU on Thursday as part of their state-wide agitations burnt copies of the ordinance, which await Governor Jagdish Mukhi's assent. The AASU protestors called the "MSME Ordinance" as a "betrayal of trust" by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government that had come to power in 2016 promising to protect 'jati' (race), 'mati' (land) and 'bheti' (hearth).

The Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) has urged the Governor not to give his assent to the "disastrous MSME Ordinance" in the veil of promoting MSMEs.

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