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Dud land shield junked
- State scraps consent cash to avert litigation

Calcutta, July 19: The Bengal government will no longer pay consent cash to landowners who have “willingly” parted with their plots.

Post-Singur, such payouts will be the responsibility of “land requiring bodies”, or holders or end-users of the acquired land.

The decision will help the government go ahead with land acquisition without fear of an additional round of litigation as was the case in Singur.

Land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said acquirers, whether government agencies or private companies, can decide on paying the consent money — a percentage of the land price over and above the principal amount — after negotiations with the landowners.

The new policy will apply only to fresh land requirements and not to Singur, where land has already been acquired, Mollah added.

In Singur, to speed up land acquisition for the Tata Motors plant, the government had empowered the district magistrate or the collector to negotiate and pay the consent money, which is up to 10 per cent of the land price fixed by the government. In return, landowners had to give an undertaking that they would not move court to claim more.

But others moved court and cited the dual rates to allege discrimination.

The land acquisition act of 1894 allows takeover without consent in public interest but it does not have a provision for awarding consent cash. Such an incentive was thought up by the government as a political lollipop meant to showcase the consent for land acquisition.

Legally, the award does not offer any immunity to the government as a seller can go to court even after accepting the consent cash. Moreover, in the Singur case, the consent cash was dubbed a “bribe” by the litigants.

With the government waking up to the folly of handing a weapon to its opponents, it has decided to scrap the consent incentive.

District collectors, on behalf of the land department, would only pay the principal amount of the land price and a 30 per cent solatium over it.

“The acquirers can seek an undertaking from the landowners that they would not go to court to settle disputes over land price,” Mollah said.

Mollah, however, made it clear that legally, the government cannot compel the land-requiring bodies to pay the extra price but only request them to do so.

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