The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land bill stalled again

Calcutta, Nov. 24: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s move to relax the rural land ceiling for investors suffered a jolt for the second time in a year today in the face of opposition from the CPM’s Left Front partners.

The front today asked the government to send the West Bengal Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2006, — earlier set to be tabled on Monday — to the all-party select committee of the Assembly for scrutiny and amendments.

It is not expected to be tabled before March.

A jubilant Forward Bloc leader Asoke Ghosh described the decision as “historic”.

A similar bill was withdrawn last year, also because of differences within the front.

“In principle, nobody is opposed to allowing industry to hold land above the ceiling. All have agreed that industry needs more than 24 acres, the ceiling for unirrigated rural land. But we felt some protective provisions should be added. The bill will have to be rephrased to plug the gaps,” front chairman and state CPM secretary Biman Bose said.

The decision to send the bill to the select committee was unanimous, he added.

Reacting to the issues raised by the Bloc, the CPI and the RSP (see box), Bose admitted that it would have been better had they been discussed in the front first. He was also not aware whether it had been placed before the cabinet.

The allies made it apparent that their strategy today was to “slow down” the land acquisition drive. “We did not oppose the relaxation of rural land ceiling for industry and infrastructure projects. Our basic aim was to send the bill to the select committee where we will express our views in detail,’’ an RSP leader said.

The government would not face any legal hurdle in leasing out the Singur plot to the Tatas, though, as land for factories, tea gardens and mills is exempt from the land ceiling.

“But acquisition and transfer of around 43,000 acres needed for the Salim Group’s infrastructure projects and SEZs are likely to face hassles,’’ a CPI veteran said.

Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said in the Assembly that over 43,000 acres of farmland are being acquired for setting up industries. “The government has no option…. It (the acquisition) pains me a lot but I will not utter a word about that in the House,’’ he said in reply to an Opposition query.

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