A 650-cottah plot of prime land in south Calcutta, worth several crores, will soon be the crucible for an experiment that the Left Front government has never undertaken before.
More than five decades after the first batch of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan started flooding Calcutta and 45 years after the Centre rehabilitated nearly 5,000 of them at Gangulybagan, the countdown has begun to the resettlement of refugees at a “nominal” cost and the subsequent commercial exploitation of the prime plot.
With less than 48 hours to go for the first phase of the project — residents vacating the building — officials say the government’s move marks a significant shift in attitude. The exercise, they explain, is being carried out on a plot occupied by erstwhile refugees who, as a community, are perceived to be a part of the traditional Left votebank.
The 500-plus families and 3,000-odd people who have continued to stay in the Gangulybagan building have been given an October 31 deadline for moving out. If everything goes according to plan, the ambitious resettlement programme that starts on Thursday will end in a state-driven residential-cum-commercial-cum-office complex.
The road, however, has not been smooth, ever since a single balcony collapsed at the complex in July 1995, prompting the government to declare all 26 buildings ‘condemned’. The buildings, which saw only one round of serious repairs (in 1979-80), were found to be unsuitable for human habitation.
Now, preparations are on for an exercise that, unfortunately, everyone in the complex is not happy about. Around half of the 500-plus families are yet to leave what has been their home for the past 45 years.
Gangulybagan Abashikbrinda spokespersons say around 60 families have been “denied” the rehabilitation package “on vague pretexts” and the package that 433 families have been forced to accept reeks of “favouritism and nepotism”, engineered by a powerful faction of the Calcutta District Committee of the CPM, said to be close to a promoters’ lobby.
The government-offered package to 436 families (three are not availing of it) has also irked a section of officials. Besides the 630-sq-ft plots the families are getting — some at Gangulybagan and others at Patuli — the government is giving them Rs 30,000 each as “building assistance grants”.
This translates to nearly Rs 1.3 crore, a sum that a government, in the midst of a DA-arrears freeze, can ill afford, say some refugee relief and rehabilitation department officials.
The Gangulybagan Cooperative Housing Society, comprising 128 families that have asked for — and got — an amalgamated plot for constructing a complex, has also alleged ‘victimisation’.
“A powerful promoters’ lobby, backed by a section of the ruling party, unhappy at not being asked to develop the property, is creating problems for many who want to join our society,” a senior association member alleged. Officials, however, appear confident that everyone will move out. “We don’t foresee any problem as everyone has given a signed undertaking,” said department secretary C.S. Samal.
The project, insist officials, will not be a loss-making one. Even if the government has to fork out Rs 1.3 crore from its exchequer, the space marked for the commercial complex — measuring nearly 10,000 sq ft on the main road — has “immense potential,” they explain.
“Can you estimate the price of 10,000 sq ft of prime commercial land, bordering an arterial road in south Calcutta, a few years from now'” one of them asked.
Another plot has been “tentatively selected” to house another office complex. No decision, however, has been taken on its commercial exploitation, yet.