Calcutta, Aug. 29: Come to Assam, we will give you land. You are not going to get land in West Bengal.” That is what Assam industries and commerce minister Pradyut Bordoloi told a clutch of around 25 Calcutta industrialists at the MCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry here today.
Bordoloi was in town to highlight investment opportunities in Assam, but as he elaborated on the land acquisition scenario in the state, the story seemed all too familiar.
“Providing contiguous blocks of land is a problem. Unlike in Haryana, where individuals own large tracts of land, the average size of land holdings is very small in Assam.”
His solution to overcome this obstacle also seemed like a page out of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s book. “We have set up a land bank of around 10,000 acres for industrial purposes,” Bordoloi said.
But unlike Bengal’s completely hands off policy on land in case of mega projects (investment of more than Rs 100 crore) agricultural land can be converted for industrial use, the minister said. “We are going for cluster development programmes to encourage MSMEs and sectors like tea and IT.”
The issue of land acquisition loomed large in today’s meet with the Lok Sabha scheduled to take up the land acquisition bill later in the day. Bordoloi devoted considerable time to defending the UPA’s landmark legislations — the food bill and the land acquisition bill — that have earned the industry’s disapproval. “We cannot ignore the compulsions of the political class. And we cannot ignore the people at the bottom of the pyramid,” he said.
Asked about the views of Ratan Tata on leadership deficit and the need for a person who can lead from the front, Bordoloi said: “I haven’t read Ratan Tata’s comments. But a lot of work needs to be done and things will take some time.”
As Bordoloi spoke about several subsidies provided to businesses by the state, several industry leaders told him about the delays they face in getting the necessary clearances to avail of these subsidies. “We got our fingers burnt in the past when several companies misused facilities like transport subsidy. So we try to be very careful,” he said.
The power shortage problem in Assam also cropped up. “We rely more on hydroelectric power in the state. And these plants cannot maintain peak power generation capacity throughout the year. We are trying to increase our thermal power generation capacity,” said Bordoloi.