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Govt’s patta push to ease acquisition pangs
- Rural polls in mind, drive on a war footing

Calcutta, Feb. 12: Rattled by protests and their possible repercussions in next year’s panchayat polls, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government is trying to balance its acquisition drive by doling out tilling rights to the landless.

The land department has set an April 14 — Bengali New Year — deadline for allotting pattas (deeds that ensure a landless peasant’s right to cultivate a patch of government land) for 10,000 acres.

Since coming to power in 1977, the Left Front has distributed pattas for over 9 lakh acres, but the process had been neglected after 1987.

Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah today said the patta distribution was a routine exercise, but admitted that the sudden flurry of activity was to “protect farmers in the face of the land acquisition drive”.

Pattas ensure compensation to small farmers in case the government decides to use its land for some other purpose and allow them to seek bank loans. “Once a farmer has a patta, he need not fear eviction,” land reforms commissioner P.K. Agarwal said.

He will supervise patta distribution in the districts once a week.

The land department has also requested urban development minister and Siliguri MLA Asok Bhattacharya to monitor the process in north Bengal and panchayat minister Surjya Kanta Mishra to do so in the south.

“We’ll continue the process at a steady pace till the panchayat elections. The panchayat samitis have been told to carry on the job in association with the block land and land revenue office,” Mollah said.

The chief minister distributed deeds in East Midnapore’s Khejuri yesterday, days after a land war rocked the area.

Mollah will distribute pattas in West Midnapore’s Jhargram later this month and attend a programme to distribute pattas at Canning I and II blocks in mid-March.

Agarwal, too, has his itinerary drawn up. He will travel to Birbhum, Purulia and north Bengal. “Once we finish giving out the land in our possession, plots locked in litigation will figure on our agenda. Around 1 lakh acres are now useless because of court cases involving them,” he said.

The land department has prepared a list of non-agricultural land across the state. It will be handed to the commerce and industries department and agencies like the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, which will conduct a survey to determine which project can be set up where.

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