Calcutta, Nov. 29: Bengal has made its land test tougher — just when industry thought it could not get any worse.
Investors seeking permission from the state government to hold project land in excess of the ceiling will have to submit no-objection certificates from farmers, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said today.
“Our cabinet sub-committee on industry and infrastructure has approved a policy that those who seek permission to set up industries by declaring they hold ceiling-surplus land have to submit no-objection from the villagers, too,” Mamata said at Writers’ Buildings.
Senior officials said the new clause would be incorporated in the state’s land policy. “Earlier, when the state government had amended Section 14Y of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, it was decided that industrialists who want to hold ceiling-surplus land have to secure an approval from a committee headed by the chief minister. But there was no clause for no-objection from villagers. The decision was taken recently,” the official said.
“Villagers will give in writing that they have no problem if the person sets up industry on the land he possessed,” the official added.
The clause will mean additional paper work and “cuts” on the ground — compounding the impediments already posed by the world’s sole surviving land ceiling rule and a hands-off land policy. (See Metro)
Industry captains said the new clause would be an additional irritant without providing any real safeguard against land sharks.
Companies generally employ outsiders to aggregate land from individual owners and pay the agents to avoid the trouble of negotiating with a multitude of holders.
It has often been found — notably during the flare-up at Vedic Village in 2009 — that the agents use force to get consent from owners in the absence of any government intervention.
“If force is used to persuade the owners to sell the property by signing on sale deed and registration, the same can be used to get the affidavit signed as well,” said the chief executive of a company building a large project in Bengal.
The new clause could also add to the cost of land acquisition. “The agent may ask for more money to do additional paper work,” said an official of an infrastructure developer.
Political sources said the chief minister’s move was intended at sending a message to her core constituency that the government was trying to protect owners from land sharks. “However, the real safeguard will only come when the state government intervenes and ensures everyone gets a fair deal,” a leader conceded.
The land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement bill pending at the Centre requires consent from 80 per cent owners. But such a consent is needed to ensure the local government’s role in acquiring the remaining 20 per cent — not the entire land as Bengal has announced now.
The Mamata Banerjee government had already said it would not play a role in acquiring even the 20 per cent.
So far, it is not known how the consent would be determined under the central act. “The consent of at least 80 per cent of the project-affected people shall be obtained through a prior informed process to be prescribed by the appropriate government,” the central draft says.
Mamata today iterated that the state would not acquire land for private investors. “We would not acquire land forcefully. Several problems crop up when the state goes in for acquisition. The state government cannot act as a broker,” she added.