Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Land acquisition in West Bengal

Economic Times


Buddhadeb's land acquisition policy takes the beating

22 May, 2008

KOLKATA: In the aftermath of CPM’s twin disasters in Singur and Nandigram in the state panchayat elections, the first victim could well be the Left Front government’s land acquisition policy in West Bengal. With farmers in Singur and Nandigram giving a resounding mandate against the CPM, the party has decided to toe a more restrained line on the ultra-sensitive issue of farmland acquisition for mega industrial ventures.

After all, times got rough for the CPM ever since the Buddhadeb government acquired some 997 acres in Singur for the showcase Tata Nano venture. And matters came to a head when the state government’s bid to acquire land in Nandigram for a mega chemical venture ignited a land war in the East Midnapore village that culminated in the famous carnage of March 14, 2007 which left 14 dead.

A state cabinet minister actively linked to the Buddhadeb government’s industrialisation process, said: “The state government plans to take a relook at its land acquisition policy and will consult the Centre in this regard. The Union government has already formulated a relief and rehabilitation policy for farmers and land losers and the proposal is pending before Parliament. We have to go through the proposal and see how much of it can be incorporated in the context of West Bengal. Undoubtedly, panchayat results have indicated that a uniform rehabilitation policy is necessary for a state like West Bengal, where only 22,412.761 acres of vested non-agricultural land is available with the government, but the demand is pegged at much more.”

The state minister added: “SEZs these days tend to run into thousands of acres. Atleast almost every second industrialist seems to come up with a demand that runs into untold thousands of acres at one go. With just 22,000 acres of vested non-agricultural land available for disposal, the state government is in no position to accommodate bulk of those prospective investors who want land as a prelude to setting up their industries.”

Hence the necessity for a law, which would provide more teeth to the state government to enforce the rehabilitation policy being formulated by the union rural development ministry. The new resettlement and rehabilitation act will not only give legislative backing to the policy, but will be an overriding law on both the land acquisition act and the SEZ act.

According to sources in the commerce and industries ministry, the draft rehabilitation policy aims to formulate a blueprint for states, which is to be followed for all projects, wherein “involuntary displacement” of people can be challenged in court, if violated. The law assumes significance given the present furore over SEZs and land acquisition for big infrastructure projects.

Under the new policy, a set of terms and conditions kick in once there is a project which involves physical displacement of 400 or more families in the plains to 200 or more families in tribal or hilly areas. The principle guidelines are:

a) It introduces the concept of social impact assessment (SIA) along with the current norm of environmental impact assessment. SIA would involve public hearings on displacement related issues, loss of livelihood, compensation, effects on family etc.

b) For projects in tribal areas, a mandatory tribal development plan will involve a programme for development of alternate fuel, fodder and non-timber forest produce on non-forest land within five years of displacement.

c) For agricultural workers, at least one person in the family shall be given employment or a one-time rehab grant equivalent to 750 days of minimum agricultural wage.

Officials from the state commerce and industries department pointed out that some of these terms and conditions have been met in the cases of setting up of steel industries in the state, particularly in the districts of Burdwan and Purulia. “Recently for setting up of a township project in Dankuni, urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya had announced a slew of incentives for people who would lose their land.”

“However, acquisition of land for setting up of a shipyard at Kulpi in South 24 parganas, land for construction of a 100-km-long eastern link expressway from Raichak to Rajarhat, a proposed township in South 24 parganas by the Salem group and similar other projects could face a setback post CPM’s debacle in panchayat polls,” the officer pointed out.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dream chemical hub project could also suffer as all the seats in the East Midnapore district have been won by the opposition Trinamool Congress, who have so far opposed the project.”

The Statesman

CPM won't change land policy


Statesman News Service
KOLKATA, May 21: The CPI-M won't roll back its controversial policy of industrialisation through farmland acquisition despite the defeat it suffered in areas it sought aggressively to implement its policy, Mr Benoy Konar, Central committee member, said today.
“It's an oversimplification to suggest that our defeat in Midnapore East, which includes Nandigram, Singur in Hooghly, South 24-Parganas and North Dinajpur means a rejection of our policy. Several factors contributed to our poor showing in those areas and these include our failure to convince the farmers about the need for industrial growth along with agricultural development, corruption in a section of panchayats, disunity among the Left Front partners on the question of industrialisation, alienation of the party from the people in many areas and communal propaganda by the PDCI leader Mr Siddiqulla Chowdhury among the rural population,” Mr Konar said.
Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee hailed Trinamul's victory in the two Zilla Parishads of Midnapore East and South 24-Parganas as “a referendum on the anti-people industrialisation policy of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and the CPI-M's blatant use of muscle power to impose the policy on the people despite their total rejection.”
The people, she said, had answered CPI-M's "bullets" with ballots.
“This is the beginning of the end of the CPI-M's rule in West Bengal. Our victory in Midnapore East and South 24-Parganas Zilla Parishads is a clear indication that the state is heading for a change,'' Miss Banerjee said.
“We could have gained the Hooghly Zilla Parishad also, if we were allowed to contest in Arambagh, Pursura, Goghat and Khanakul.'' She alleged the Opposition candidates were not even allowed to file nominations in many seats in Midnapore West, Burdwan, Bankura and Hooghly.
Miss Banerjee said she was ready to tie up with like-minded Left forces, but parried an answer when asked if she would form boards with the Congress or the BJP.
Asked whether the Trinamul would take help from the RSP to form a board in South Dinajpur, Miss Banerjee said: “You would come to know about it later''.
Miss Banerjee dismissed the suggestion that the Trinamul would have fared better if it tied up with the Congress. “We have won seats without the Congress,” she said.
Mr Ashoke Ghosh, Forward Bloc state general secretary, posed the question: “Who would answer for the Left Front's defeat in the three districts?”
Mr Manoj Bhattacharya, RSP Central committee member, said the CPI-M's industrialisation overdrive was responsible for the LF's defeat. “The CPI-M didn't pay heed to our advice that the policy of industrialisation through farm land acquisition goes against the interests of poor farmers.”
The PCC demanded the resignation of the chief minister as the verdict of Nandigram and Singur was a rejection of his industrialisation policy, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, its spokesman said.
“The people have lost faith in the chief minister who has no qualms in lying to the people on the crucial question of their livelihood,” he said.
Mr Nandagopal Bhattacharya, CPI leader and minister for water investigation said: “The LF had to pay for the CPI-M's arrogant attitude. We have repeatedly said the CPI-M's industrialisation policy was flawed, but the CPI-M brushed it aside. If no lesson is learnt, the LF would have to pay dearly in the coming days.”

The Telegraph

Land acquisition begins anew after panchayat polls


Govt back to takeover table
- Land acquisition for shipyard near Nandi kicks off

Tamluk, May 19: The rural polls over, the government has issued a notification for the acquisition of around 500 acres about 30km from Nandigram for a shipyard, its downstream industries and infrastructure development.

The notice, advertised in newspapers today, will be put up at the Kukrahati and Betkundu village panchayat offices later this week.

Shipbuilder Bharti had sought around 400 acres on the banks of the Hooghly. The company has promised to invest Rs 2,000 crore over the next 10 years in the shipyard to be built in collaboration with the Apeejay Group.

The advertisement issued by East Midnapore district magistrate Anup Agarwal says: “The land may be required for shipbuilding, downstream industries, infrastructure development and rehabilitation (of landlosers).”

Around 6,000 people live in the four mouzas of Geonkhali earmarked for acquisition.

Agarwal said that after the notification was hung at the panchayat offices, landowners would be given 30 days to file “claims and objections”.

“After 30 days from the display of the notification at the panchayat offices, we will start the hearing.”

During the hearing, the administration will “take the opinion of all people whose land falls under the notified area”.

A Trinamul Congress-led group burnt copies of the notification and vowed to resist the land takeover.

A Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee has been formed in the area on the lines of the Nandigram outfit that triggered a bloody land war last year over a notification.

“We held a meeting at Deulpota yesterday and decided that we won’t hand over any agricultural land to the government. We are holding meetings and taking out processions. We will meet the addi- tional district magistrate in Haldia on Friday and lodge our protest. If land is acquired in Geonkhali, we will launch a Nandigram-type movement,” said Satyen Maity, the convener of the Pratirodh Committee in Geonkhali.

The resistance group was set up in August 2007 after the villagers learnt about the government’s plan to build a shipyard in the area.

During a campaign meeting on April 27, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had asked the audience at Mahishadal town, 10km from Deulpota, whether they wanted the shipyard in Geonkhali. The audience had shouted back that they did.

The Pratirodh Committee said those who had shouted their approval of the project were all CPM supporters.

“That is not what the villagers want. The people of Geonkhali will not hand over any agricultural land for industry,” said Partha Batabyal, a committee leader.

Contai (South) Trinamul MLA Sisir Adhikary warned of “stiff resistance” if the administration tried to acquire land forcibly. He, too, threatened another “Nandigram”.

“Most villagers are dependent on agriculture. There are about 1,000 people who depend on pisciculture. We will not allow an industry to come up on such fertile land,” said Bimalendu Chakraborty, 65, a retired college teacher and anti-acquisition activist.

A top commerce and industries ministry official had said earlier this month that the “state would go for land acquisition after the polls” because several investment proposals were stuck.