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Bengal to buy land for private projects again

Last updated on: September 22, 2009 

Bengal to buy land for private projects again

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Ishita Ayan Dutt in Kolkata

Stung by the public relations crisis caused by the scandal over private sector acquisition of land for the Vedic Village spa and resort on Kolkata's outskirts, the West Bengal government has decided to repudiate a two-month policy and start acquiring land for private projects again.

To this end, it announced that state-owned West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation would acquire 4,000 acres for an industrial park at Panagarh in Bardhaman district, of which a 1,500-acre, 2 million ton specialty steel plant for Bharat Forge-promoted Kalyani Steels would be the anchor project.


Image: Farmers walk through a field at Moynaguri village, about 66 km north of Siliguri.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
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Nirupam Sen, West Bengal's commerce and industry minister, said the process of acquiring 450 acres for the first phase of the project was in the final stages.

This development marks a significant turnaround from the state government's announcement to jettison land acquisition for private projects after the four-party Left Front government suffered a heavy electoral defeat in the Lok Sabha elections in May.

The defeat was largely attributed to problems with land acquisition for two show-case projects -- a chemical hub in Nandigram and Tata Motors' Nano plant in Singur -- that were subsequently scrapped.

In both cases WBIDC was to acquire land for the private promoter -- in the latter case, it had acquired 997 accres before Tata Motors withdrew in October last year.


Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Photographs: Jayanta Dey/Reuters
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The cause of the land-losers was championed by the Trinamool Congress, which won 19 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats, handing the Left Front its worst defeat in 32 years.

At that time, pressure from the powerful Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah prompted the state government to stop acquiring land for private projects, a move that virtually brought industrialisation in the state to a halt.

Mollah's department has now come under the scanner in the Vedic Village deal, where private promoters allegedly forcibly acquired land with the help of local land brokers. Last month, locals turned their anger against one of these brokers, leading to one death and substantial damage to the resort.


Image: Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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Now, Sen has said there would be no particular model for land acquisition. Mollah also confirmed that the government has asked WBIDC to buy land for the Panagarh project.

A Kalyani Steels spokesperson declined to comment on the project. Sen, however, said the acquisition at Panagarh was being done after reaching a political consensus.

"Even the price for the land has been arrived at after negotiations with the land-losers," he said.


Image: West Bengal Commerce and Industry Minister Nirupam Sen.
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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As part of the rehabilitation scheme, the government was adopting a land-for-land scheme."A part of the commercially developed land will be reserved for land-losers. They could set up their own business there or can rent out the land so that they have a regular source of income," he explained.

The Vedic Village controversy put the state government in an embarrassing position because it had an agreement with a consortium comprising Vedic Realty for a 1,500-acre IT township project, for which the land was being acquired by the private developers.

Infosys and Wipro were supposed to get 90 acres each in the project area. Both IT majors were later re-allocated land at New Town in Rajarhat on the north eastern fringes of Kolkata.


Image: A farmer in Moynaguri village, near Siliguri.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
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