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State lobbies Delhi to raise land price

Calcutta, Aug. 6: The government has asked the Centre to ensure a level playing field across the country so that Bengal can increase compensation for landlosers without fearing competitive pricing by other states.

In a letter to the Centre dated July 20, commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen listed “suggestions for the changes in the central policy on special economic zones” and asked for “necessary amendments” to the central land acquisition act to increase the compensation.

The compensation should be “determined not only on the basis current market price of land, but also linked to a share of the future appreciation of the value of the land after the SEZ project is implemented’’, Sen wrote.

Similarly, the state wants changes in the law to “protect the interests of land-dependent people” and their “alternative livelihood in non-agricultural activities”.

The present law ignores the rights of sharecroppers and farm labourers.

The state wants SEZ developers to share the “major fiscal benefits” offered by the Centre. “The developer must con- tribute a part of the benefits to the local community and (the) government of India may stipulate a certain quantum of funds,” the letter says.

The funds, to be administered by the development commissioner of the SEZs, would be “in addition to the rehabilitation and alternative livelihood measures taken up by the developer for the landlosers and other project-affected people”.

To ensure a fair “compensation” for the land purchased or acquired, the state wants to “directly mediate in the formulation of appropriate alternative livelihood package for landlosers”.

These demands are in tune with the note sent by the four Left parties — the CPM, CPI, RSP and the Forward Bloc — to the UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi.

According to the industries minister Nirupam Sen, the legal changes are being sought to ensure a “level playing ground” so that Bengal does not lose out to other states while trying to protect the interests of landlosers and other affected people.

“We are contemplating guidelines for the private investors’ role in the economic rehabilitation of landlosers and other land-dependent people. But we have to be cautious. The rope should not get snapped during the tug-of-war,” Sen told The Telegraph, indicating the government’s dilemma over addressing the criticism from the Opposition and allies over land acquisition while sustaining the flow of investment.

Economists like Amartya Sen may have favoured competition among industries for direct purchase of land with the state’s role as a facilitator to ensure a better price for farmers. But the secretary’s letter stressed the government’s role in the acquisition or purchase of land, both for the sake of farmers and industry.

The state also opposed the Centre’s decision not to consider applications for SEZ on land taken over under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, unless landowners express consent.

The principle of seeking farmers’ consent should be applied equally in case of direct purchase by the SEZ developer and acquisition by the state, the secretary said. He also insisted that land acquisition under the 1894 law should be left to the states to decide, based on “ground realities”.

The government had said it had sought consent from the Singur landowners to avoid legal hassles, despite the act having no such provision.

According to the law, the state can acquire any land in public interest. The owners can only complain about the price being offered.

Sen said the government did not want to “remain a spectator”, even in the case of direct purchase by developers.

“Fragmentation of land” has made it difficult to develop a “buyer-seller interface essential for direct purchase”.

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