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Hands off land, GTA told
Sabha fumes at govt order

Calcutta, Jan. 6: The Mamata Banerjee government has instructed the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) through an order to follow the state’s hands-off land policy that GTA Sabha members have said is “unacceptable”.

The order (picture on on top), issued by principal secretary of the land and land reforms department, R.D. Meena, on December 28, categorically states “in no circumstances there will be any forcible acquisition of land and the land policy of the State Government shall be strictly followed by the GTA in dealing with any case….”

The GTA Sabha is yet to receive the order. But several Sabha members said the order was passed unilaterally and will be opposed by the hill body when it reaches the hills from Writers’ Buildings.

“We are coming to know of this from you (The Telegraph). You possess a copy of the order and we don’t. If the state government had to pass such an important order, directly affecting the GTA, we ought to have been consulted,” said GTA Sabha member and Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri.

The order has raised questions over development projects being planned for the area as, according to Sabha members such as Chhetri, “substantial” of land would be required for implementing the projects. Chhetri said the GTA Sabha has been working on plans for colleges, universities, tourist resorts and allied facilities, roads and other infrastructure projects, worth “at least half” of the Rs 200 crore grant from the Centre.

“If this government’s land policy is to be followed in letter and spirit, it would be difficult to get any land. Moreover, if the state government tries to impose restrictions on the GTA in every key area of functioning, where is the greater autonomy that was promised to us? How will the GTA then be different from the DGHC?” Chhetri asked.

A section of bureaucrats echoed the GTA’s concerns, apprehending “rough weather” for major development projects if the hills body is forced to follow the state’s policy.

“Land is an integral part of development infrastructure. Most development projects in the plains are stuck in a limbo because of the land issue. If those in the hills meet the same consequences, then the agitation there could resurface,” said a senior official this evening.

Mamata’s aversion to land acquisition has already put several projects such as the widening of highways NH34 and NH31D in north Bengal under threat.

Besides, two thermal power plants — a 1,000MW Larsen & Toubro plant and a 1,600MW NTPC plant at Burdwan’s Katwa — are yet to take off because of the government’s persistent refusal to acquire land even for such key infrastructure facilities.

In the order, the state has also refused the GTA the authority to carry out land settlements for residential, non-agricultural and tea garden purposes. The order states that in such cases, the GTA could send recommendations to the state government but the final settlement would be done by the latter.

“The order is in violation of the provisions of the tripartite agreement and the GTA Act that was passed last year on the basis of those provisions. The state is apparently trying to restrict the powers promised to us in the agreement and the Act, in concurrence with the Centre,” Chhetri said. “We will take this up within the GTA and with the government. We will bring it to the notice of the Assembly. We are not going to take this lying down,” he said.

However, one of the government’s seniormost bureaucrats contradicted Chhetri’s claim, saying neither the agreement nor the GTA Act had any provision contrary to the order. “The GTA is a part of the state’s administration. A single state cannot have two land policies. The discussion ends there,” the official said.

“The government has not taken a single step so far outside the provisions of the agreement or the Act. Outside of tauzi related matters, taking final decisions on land was never a part of the autonomy that the Sabha was promised. The Sabha could make minor additions to the policy, according to its own needs, but none that is in contradiction to it (the state’s policy),” he added.