It's official now. The Left Front government won't acquire any land for industry any more. Finance minister Asim Dasgupta formally announced this in West Bengal assembly on Thursday.
Later, land and leand reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said projects where land acquisition notification had already been issued would not be affected.
Among the major projects affected are the proposed steel plants of Videocon, Bhushan Steel and the Abhijit group. Neeraj Singhal, managging director of Bhushan Steel, said it would be difficult to acquire land wihtout government support.
The decisin would also impact a host of projects lined up by New Kolkata International Development, a special purpose vehicle promoted by the Salim Group of Indonesia and the Universal Success group.
Notable among the Salim Group's projects to be now frozen is the proposed Barasat-Raichak Expressway project. This was one project, along with Tata's Nano car unit in Singur and the Salem Group's chemical hub in Nandigram, which gave rise to a violent anti-Left peasant movement in the state, culminating in a major political setback for the Left in the recent elections.
Following the Singur agitation, farmers at one place, Bhangar, rose in protest at any bid for acquisition of land for the proposed expressway. Gradually, people from other areas through which the proposed expressway was supposed to be laid, resisted the government officials when they went to preliminary survey the land.
Apart from these three cases, DLF had also to pull out from their township project at Dankuni because of the land problem. With today's announcement, the curtain is finally down on the government's current policy on rapid industrialisation.
Replying on the debate on the Appropriation Bill, Dasgupta said, "Now, industry will have to buy the land directly from the farmers for their new projects. After buying the land, if the industry needs additional land, the state at best can play a role of facilitator in obtaining that."
Adding: "If the farmers are unwilling to part with their land, then in no case will the state impose its will on them for the sake of industry."
The state had already taken two steps back by taking away the responsibility of identifying and creating a land bank for the industry from industry minister Nirupam Sen. The responsibility now rests with Mollah, the minister for land and land reform, who is known for his opposition to acquisition of fertile land for the sake of industry.
Molla had already announced that the land bank will be created in backward districts like Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapur and part of Birbhum. Industry will have to make do there if they are keen to invest in the state.