Calcutta, Sept. 8: The government is gearing up to amend a law to allow agri-industrial units to hold rural land above the ceiling to facilitate farming of new-age cash crops and tourism projects in backward areas.
Earlier, there was a move to give blanket permission for cultivation of all commercial crops.
The shift in policy will ensure that the exemption is granted for specific cash crops or tourism projects. The government had attempted a change in law last year by moving an amendment in the Assembly, but withdrew it after differences within the CPM and the Left Front.
“Last time, we had made the mistake of giving blanket permission to hold rural land above the ceiling for commercial cultivation of cash crops. Now, jute and mustard are also considered cash crops. It would have been a disaster for growers if we had allowed the corporate agri-industry to purchase and hold land above the ceiling for cultivating these crops,’’ land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said.
“This time, the permission would be crop and area-specific. If a company wants to promote the cultivation of jatropha for producing bio-diesel, we would give permission. Similarly, for anyone interested in promoting tourism in the Sunderbans or some other backward area, permission will be granted,’’ he said.
The issue came up for discussion at a meeting of the state cabinet’s sub-committee on industry on Wednesday. The government has received several proposals for agri-based industries and tourism.
Section 14(Y) of West Bengal Land Reforms Act prohibits ownership of more than 14 acres, including those in the homestead category, in irrigated areas; the limit is 24 acres in non-irrigated areas.
The CPM peasants’ wing, Krishak Sabha, which has been opposed to any relaxation of the land ceiling over the years, today said it was not averse to exemptions if a company with larger holdings helps rejuvenate sick agri-farms run by the state and reclaim fallow land in backward areas.
“Farmers should cultivate new-generation cash crops in fertile areas and fruits and orchards in arid zones. Companies can enter into contracts with them, ensure credit, inputs and buy back produce rather than hold or lease land for farming,” the Sabha’s state secretary, Samar Baora, said.
Asked about the government’s move to allow cultivation of medicinal plants by private firms in Darjeeling’s loss-making Cinchona estate, Baora said land, whether with the government or farmers, should be used in the best possible way.