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Private ‘landline’ for prestige science hub

Private landowners and brokers have put their hands up to help keep a prestigious international science project from going out of Bengal because of the Mamata Banerjee government’s hands-off policy on acquiring land.

The Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics has received as many as eight private offers of land since The Telegraph highlighted on June 9 (see picture) the risk of Calcutta losing to Karnataka a Rs 6,000-crore project to build the world’s fifth high-energy synchrotron centre.

Shyamali Das of the Estate of Rani Rashmoni mailed her offer directly to chief minister Mamata hours after reading the report, saying she would be glad to cobble up the required number of acres for the project at Mahishbathan, in South 24-Parganas.

“For your kind information, we have a quantum of plots for development. We would like to give land for such a prestigious and landmark project so that West Bengal attains a position of eminence in the international sphere of science and technology,” Das wrote.

Varun Kumar Ghosh of Narayan Eshan Investment offered land along the Kalyani Expressway in an email to the director of the institute, Milan Kumar Sanyal. “I have 75 acres of land ready for registration on Kalyani Expressway, 15km from the airport. If you are interested, I can arrange for another 40 acres along with the above, making it a single piece of 110 to 115 acres,” he said.

The government has asked for the title deeds of the land belonging to the Estate of Rani Rashmoni, while Narayan Eshan Investment is awaiting a response from the Saha institute.

“We are a land development company and have 215 bigha ready for registration. There is also a 300 to 350-bigha plot that can be arranged to form a large, contiguous piece of land,” Ghosh told Metro.

Both Das and Ghosh insisted they had come forward for Bengal’s prestige, not profit. But sources at Writers’ Buildings said the government possibly wouldn’t encourage any such offer given its stand on land acquisition.

Director Sanyal said the institute would leave it to the government, from whom it had originally asked for around 100 acres in Rajarhat, to acquire privately owned land for the project. “Hidco or any other government agency needs to do this for us.”

Chief secretary Samar Ghosh, who is in talks with Sanyal, said: “The government has not been able to firm up an offer yet. We are still exploring the possibilities of locating such a piece of land.”

Hidco chairman Debasish Sen, an alumnus of the Saha institute, admitted it was a Catch-22 for all the parties involved. “The government does not have 100 acres in Rajarhat or New Town, it has 1-2 acres in Rajarhat left at the most. Land would have to be acquired to give 100 acres to the institute, which goes against the government’s land policy,” he said.

So is Bengal doomed to lose yet another project because of land politics? “Of course not. The government has vast, contiguous plots outside the city. And as a former student of the institute, I would very much want the project to remain in Bengal,” Sen said.

The hitch is: the project site can’t be far from Calcutta.