Special Economic Zone Unit (SEZ)

India was one of the first in Asia to recognize the effectiveness of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) model in promoting exports, with Asia’s first EPZ set up in Kandla in 1965. With a view to overcome the shortcomings experienced on account of the multiplicity of controls and clearances; absence of world-class infrastructure and an unstable fiscal regime and with a view to attract larger foreign investments in India, the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) Policy was announced in April 2000.

This policy intended to make SEZs an engine for economic growth supported by quality infrastructure complemented by an attractive fiscal package, both at the Centre and the State level, with the minimum possible regulations. SEZs in India functioned from 1.11.2000 to 09.02.2006 under the provisions of the Foreign Trade Policy and fiscal incentives were made effective through the provisions of relevant statutes.

The main objectives of the SEZ Act are:

(a) generation of additional economic activity;
(b) promotion of exports of goods and services;
(c) promotion of investment from domestic and foreign sources;
(d) creation of employment opportunities;
(e) development of infrastructure facilities;

The SEZ Act 2005 envisages key role for the State Governments in Export Promotion and creation of related infrastructure. A Single Window SEZ approval mechanism has been provided through a 19 member inter-ministerial SEZ Board of Approval (BoA). The applications duly recommended by the respective State Governments/UT Administration are considered by this BoA periodically. All decisions of the Board of approvals are with consensus.

The SEZ Rules provide for different minimum land requirement for different class of SEZs. Every SEZ is divided into a processing area where alone the SEZ units would come up and the non-processing area where the supporting infrastructure is to be created.

The SEZ Rules provide for :

1. Simplified procedures for development, operation, and maintenance of the Special Economic Zones and for setting up units and conducting business in SEZs;
2. Single window clearance for setting up of an SEZ;
3. Single window clearance for setting up a unit in a Special Economic Zone;
4. Single Window clearance on matters relating to Central as well as State Governments;
5. Simplified compliance procedures and documentation with an emphasis on self certification

Approval mechanism and Administrative set up of SEZs

Approval mechanism

The developer submits the proposal for establishment of SEZ to the concerned State Government. The State Government has to forward the proposal with its recommendation within 45 days from the date of receipt of such proposal to the Board of Approval. The applicant also has the option to submit the proposal directly to the Board of Approval.

Administrative set up

The functioning of the SEZs is governed by a three tier administrative set up. The Board of Approval is the apex body and is headed by the Secretary, Department of Commerce. The Approval Committee at the Zone level deals with approval of units in the SEZs and other related issues. Each Zone is headed by a Development Commissioner, who is ex-officio chairperson of the Approval Committee.

Once an SEZ has been approved by the Board of Approval and Central Government has notified the area of the SEZ, units are allowed to be set up in the SEZ. All the proposals for setting up of units in the SEZ are approved at the Zone level by the Approval Committee consisting of Development Commissioner, Customs Authorities and representatives of State Government. All post approval clearances including grant of importer-exporter code number, change in the name of the company or implementing agency, broad banding diversification, etc. are given at the Zone level by the Development Commissioner. The performance of the SEZ units are periodically monitored by the Approval Committee and units are liable for penal action under the provision of Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, in case of violation of the conditions of the approval.

Incentives and facilities offered to the SEZs

The incentives and facilities offered to the units in SEZs for attracting investments into the SEZs, including foreign investment include:-

1. Duty free import/domestic procurement of goods for development, operation and maintenance of SEZ units.
2. 100% Income Tax exemption on export income for SEZ units under Section 10AA of the Income Tax Act for first 5 years, 50% for next 5 years thereafter and 50% of the ploughed back export profit for next 5 years.
3. Exemption from minimum alternate tax under section 115JB of the Income Tax Act.
4. External commercial borrowing by SEZ units upto US $ 500 million in a year without any maturity restriction through recognized banking channels.
5. Exemption from Central Sales Tax.
6. Exemption from Service Tax.
7. Single window clearance for Central and State level approvals.
8. Exemption from State sales tax and other levies as extended by the respective State Governments.

The major incentives and facilities available to SEZ developers include:-

1. Exemption from customs/excise duties for development of SEZs for authorized operations approved by the BOA.
2. Income Tax exemption on income derived from the business of development of the SEZ in a block of 10 years in 15 years under Section 80-IAB of the Income Tax Act.
3. Exemption from minimum alternate tax under Section 115 JB of the Income Tax Act.
4. Exemption from dividend distribution tax under Section 115(O) of the Income Tax Act.
5. Exemption from Central Sales Tax (CST).
6. Exemption from Service Tax (Section 7, 26 and Second Schedule of the SEZ Act).

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