Bengal softens stand on land for railway projects

Bengal softens stand on land for railway projects
The Left Front government in West Bengal will go extra miles to make land available for new railway projects in the state. Abdur Rezzak Molla, the minister in charge of land and land reforms, said in the state Assembly today that if the railways sought land for the projects the government would ‘organise’ the same on a priority basis.
It is significant that Molla has avoided using the term ‘acquisition’, and instead said the government would ‘organise’ land. Partha Chatterjee, the Opposition leader in the House, welcomed the announcement made by Rezzak Molla.
Later, Molla hinted that if needed the government might go for outright purchase of land for railway and other development projects.
In the recent Railway Budget, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee announced many new projects for West Bengal. Though she had claimed that the railways would not acquire land from the farmers and that most of the projects would be carried out using the surplus railway land, the railways might need some additional land. More importantly, the additional land will be needed for the freight corridor, which would be extended up to Dankuni from Bihar, and the proposed 1,000 Mw thermal power project in Purulia.
By offering an olive branch on making land available for the proposed projects, the Left Front government also wanted to show that it would not be outmanoeuvred by Banerjee on the issue of the state’s development.
After burning its fingers in Singur and Nandigram, the state government is now averse to any move which involves acquisition of farmland. Replying to the debate on his department’s budget, Molla today assured that while his department was responsible for creating a land bank for the future investment in the state, he would take no steps which hurt farmers’ interests.
The Department of Land and Land Reforms has already taken up the task of creating a land bank for possible use by the investors in setting up new industry there. For that a satellite mapping process has been started in 72 blocks consisting of districts like West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura, and part of Burdwan and Birbhum.
Unlike wetlands of Singur and Nandigram, which usually have multi-crop farming, this time the government is trying to identify land for industry in relatively arid zones. The minister said priority would be given to fallow land, and if necessary single crop land. But the government would surely take farmers’ consent before going for land procurement.
The investors, who would like to set up industry in the state, will be offered to buy land from this land bank. The mechanism of buying land from the state will be administered through the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.
With an oblique reference to how Tatas were offered land in Singur for their Nano car unit, Molla cautioned that no investor would have the freedom to demand land in highly congested and fertile areas.
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