The Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by Mr. Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry on June 24, 2019. It was first legislation to be passed by newly- constituted 17th Lok Sabha. It amends the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 and replaces an Ordinance that was promulgated on March 2, 2019. The Act provides for the establishment, development and management of Special Economic Zones for the promotion of exports.
Salient features of the Bill
The SEZ (Amendment) Bill 2019 replaced an ordinance of March 2019, which amended the SEZ Act of 2005 to add two new categories – “trusts or any entity, as may be notified by the Central Government” – among those eligible for setting up units in the notified SEZs. Under the Act, the definition of a person includes an individual, a Hindu undivided family, a company, a co-operative society, a firm, or an association of persons. The Bill adds two more categories to this definition by including a trust, or any other entity which may be notified by the central government. Below mentioned are the salient features of the Bill:
1. Boost to investment and employment generation
The government had already received eight applications from trusts from reputed companies proposing a total investment potential of INR 8,000 crore. The natures of these trusts or the kind of economic activities they are involved in are not clear yet. Though the opposition was skeptical about the usefulness of the amendment, the SEZs had generated 20 lakh jobs, brought investments worth INR 5 lakh crore, with exports worth INR 7 lakh crore by the end of March 2019.
2. Legroom for a wide range of trusts
The Bill opens up the possibility for all types of trusts to operate from the SEZs – public charitable trusts, private trusts run by big and small corporate houses, business trusts like real estate investment trusts (REITs) and infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs), private companies with their own PF trusts and port trusts run by the government. These trusts run a wide range of activities ranging from health, education, skilling and other livelihood generation activities to manufacturing and financing.
3. Utilization of vacant land and non-operational SEZs
The amendment would also facilitate the use of the SEZ land lying vacant. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, 40 % of the notified SEZs are non-operational and more than 50 % of land notified for the SEZ use is lying vacant.
By allowing trusts to set up units in the SEZs, the unused land could be put to productive use now.
The SEZs have contributed significantly to the economy. SEZs are major export hubs in the country as the government provides several incentives and single-window clearance system. The developers and units of these zones enjoy certain fiscal and non-fiscal incentives such as no license requirement for import; full freedom for subcontracting; and no routine examination by customs authorities of export/import cargo. They also enjoy direct and indirect tax benefits.
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