The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Allies slam brakes on land ceiling bill

Calcutta, Feb. 6: The Assembly select committee examining the bill to relax the rural land ceiling has not been able to decide its fate, apparently in the face of opposition within the Left Front.

Stung by the allies’ criticism of the bill and the government’s land acquisition drive, state CPM secretary and front chairman Biman Bose has called a meeting on Thursday.

“Front partners RSP, CPI and Forward Bloc have asked us to withdraw the bill. The Congress and Trinamul Congress have also expressed the same view,” land minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, also the chairman of the committee, said after the meeting.

The land acquisition drive for industry, however, would not get stalled even if the bill is not passed in the next session. “There is scope for indus-try to hold land above ceiling even in the present law,” Mollah added.

According to CPM insiders, the West Bengal Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2006, is meant to clear the way for commerce and infrastructure projects that cannot be categorised as industry in the present law, and larger ventures like special economic zones.

The bill empowers the government to lease out the acquired land to investors, who can “transfer” or sell the plot with permission.

The allies complained that the provision would only encourage land speculation.

The bill suggests regularising all illegal conversion of agricultural land and allows acquisition of tribal land in lieu of the same nature of plots in the vicinity.

It also proposes to make sharecroppers co-owners of 50 per cent of the land they till through an agreement with the landowners.

The allies feel it would only pave the way for the sale of sharecroppers’ land to outsiders, leaving them landless.

The select committee will meet again on February 13.

“In no way are we going to accept the relaxation of land ceiling. We cannot be party to amendments that will introduce corporate zamindari. Small and marginal farmers as well as sharecroppers would be evicted if the bill is passed. Land sharks have already grabbed a lot of land despite the ceiling. We can’t allow more,’’ Bloc state secretary Asoke Ghosh said today.

Describing the widening chasm in the Left over land as a “crisis”, Ghosh also opposed any special economic zone in the state.

He also asked the government to lift prohibitory orders in Singur and not acquire the land of unwilling farmers.

CPI state secretary Manju Kumar Majumdar and RSP state secretary Debabrata Bandopadhyay also opposed the bill and asked the front to send teams to Singur and Nandigram to assess the ground situation before the Left “loses more ground to the Opposition”.

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