The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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State targets ‘sick’ land

Calcutta, Feb. 10: Bengal’s sick industrial units may finally be of use. The state government has decided to acquire unused land of closed industries, parcel out parts to small entrepreneurs and sell the remainder for state and private-sector housing projects.

State commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen, who has been urging the government to make use of the urban “fallow” land since he took over the department’s reins after the Left Front won the 2001 Assembly polls, has convened a meeting at his chamber at Writers’ Buildings on February 17 to discuss the issue.

“We want to make use of the plots of land that have grown into jungles,” Sen told The Telegraph.

“The meeting next Monday will go into the legal aspects of the policy-decision.” State advocate-general Balai Ray has been invited to give the meeting the necessary legal inputs. The letter sent to his office requests him to be present for a “detailed discussion on the crucial issue relating to the economic utilisation of unused industrial land”.

Most of the land that the state government is targeting now lies close to the city, in North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas and Howrah. With most sick industries being located in these districts — in areas on the city’s fringes — the government first lay its eyes on these areas, officials explained. Also under the government scanner is land given to proposed industries that have failed to take off.

“We have to turn away, much against our wishes, many entrepreneurs who want small plots of land from the government to get themselves started,” said a top official at Writers’ Buildings. “After the government finalises this legislation and pushes it through in the Assembly, things will change for the better.”

Many applicants for government land, particularly in areas close to the city in South 24-Parganas, want to set up agro-based industries as part of the government’s self-employment scheme. Handing over the required land to these applicants should pose no problem in the near future, officials hoped.

In Howrah, the government has a different motive. “We want to spread out the congested city,” disclosed an official. “The acres of unused land surrounding the city will help us declog Howrah.”

Once the commerce and industry ministry finishes distributing land to entrepreneurs, it will sell the remainder to the state housing department and private developers.

“Real estate, too, will receive a big boost once we finish with the lawmaking process,” a senior official said.

The only hitch, say officials, is the huge amount of land mortgaged to banks by the sick industries, which have closed down without paying their dues. The owners of many plots have been unable to sell them off also because of the failure to meet their statutory obligations, like payment of provident fund to their employees.

“The legislation will have to be framed in such a way that the government will be able to take over this land after directly dealing with the loan-payers (banks) without the managements (of the sick units) getting into the picture,” explained an official of the judicial department.

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