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State move to abolish urban land ceiling

Calcutta, June 29: Buoyed by a bonanza of Rs 256 crore from the Centre for having slashed stamp duty, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government is now looking to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act.

Within a week of finance minister Asim Dasgupta announcing the stamp duty cut in urban areas to 6 per cent, the Centre approved six drinking water projects worth Rs 256 crore submitted by the Bengal government.

Elated, the state intends to tell the Centre that it is reviewing the Urban Land Ceiling Act, a major condition for Delhi providing assistance for any major infrastructure project.

“We’ve set up a committee chaired by a retired bureaucrat, S.S. Chakraborty, to review this act. The committee will table its report in two months. Meanwhile, we’ll tell the Centre that we’ll decide on this in a year,” said urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya.

Repeal of the act means the Left Front demolishing one of the ideological pillars it has held on to since the time of the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency, which it had opposed.

It was introduced in 1976 to keep a check on land sharks and ensure that land does not accumulate with an individual.

The Left Front has allowed the law to continue though the Centre has abolished it.

“It is not a very good law. It dates back to the Emergency days,” Bhattacharya said.

Although he said a decision would be taken only after the committee’s report, the statement is indication enough of the impending demise of the act.

The act bans holding of more than 7.5 cottahs in Calcutta, while the corresponding figure for Asansol and Durgapur is 20 cottahs.

The Centre’s other conditions for sanctioning infrastructure projects are cutting property tax and accounting reforms.

“But repealing the act is the main point of contention,” Bhattacharya said, adding that the government would still like to exercise some control over landholdings.

Last year, in a study of Bengal’s industrial climate, the Department for International Development of the British government said the act was making it difficult to acquire land for urbanisation and industry.

It hasn’t served the purpose either. Land-grabbing has not stopped because policing has been poor.

“We’ll place proposals for flyovers and other infrastructure projects in our next meeting (with the Centre) in July,” the minister said.

Among these are three flyovers and a connector, together costing over Rs 500 crore.

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