Sunday, August 17, 2008

Land acquisition

Calcutta, Aug. 16: The land-grab cry against the government, till now heard only from Singur and Nandigram, is coming from some Christian missionaries, too.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church that runs a school for poor children on 375 acres in Falakata, Jalpaiguri, has been told by the government that it can keep only 24 acres.

“It (the government) wants to take the rest of the property,” said Bernard Halder, the principal of Seventh Day Adventist Church School, Calcutta, who also manages the property matters of the Falakata school.

The government informed the church about its decision two years ago. Halder said the compensation the church was getting was measly.

A senior land and land reforms department official said the church had flouted land ceiling norms, hence the acquisition. “Going by the land ceiling rules, an organisation cannot hold over 7.5 acres in urban areas and 24.20 acres in other areas,” he said.

The government can allow an organisation to possess more land in special cases, for instance, if it is for setting up an industry or for implementing a developmental project of the state or central government. But in such a case, cabinet approval is required.

“So, the church in Jalpaiguri will have to hand over the excess land,” the official said.

Citing the land ceiling rules, the state has started acquiring 60 acres from the Methodist Church in Asansol, 21 acres from the Baptist Union Church in Midnapore, 21 acres from the Evangelical Luthera Church in Purulia and 14 acres from the Church of North India in Jiagunge, Murshidabad.

“Ours is a philanthropist organisation,” Halder, of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, said. “We give free education, boarding, food and vocational training to poor children. A Christian missionary had donated the land and our main source of income is from cultivation of paddy, dairy farming and pisciulture on this land,” he said. “It will be impossible for us to run the institution if the land is taken away.”

The Bangiya Christiya Pariseba, a state-level organisation of Christian members and churches, has contended in court that the government cannot include church plots under land ceiling rules. The Pariseba will organise protests from September.

The organisation has written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, minority affairs minister Abdus Sattar and land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah.

Mollah said: “I am only aware about the problem with a church in Jalpaiguri. I am looking into the complaints of the other churches.”

Herod Mullick, general secretary of the Pariseba, said: “If the state government turns a blind eye, we will organise law violation programmes and march to the Assembly.”