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Govt glare on Left land permit

Calcutta, Dec. 30: The Mamata Banerjee government has ordered a probe to find out how a Calcutta-based company was allotted land in excess of the ceiling by the Left administration to set up the Dhulagarh truck terminal in Howrah.

Officials said the move to order the probe was the first step to reclaiming land allotted by the Left government for different projects across the state in violation of rules.

A preliminary probe by the transport department has revealed that the Left government had allotted 42.3 acres to Calcutta Mumbai Truck Terminal Limited (CMTTL) in 2004 for the Dhulagarh project, violating the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976.

According to the provisions of the act, no person or entity can hold more than 7.5 cottahs (0.123 acres) in urban areas unless they get a clearance under Section 14Y of the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Act, 1955. In rural areas, the ceiling is 24.8 acres.

Dinesh Bajaj, the chairman of the West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, said the company had not sought any clearance under Section 14Y of the land act.

The company denied having violated any rule, saying the government calculation was erroneous. Officials of CMTTL said they did not need any clearance under Section 14Y as they had been given less than 24 acres, which was within the rural land ceiling.

Bajaj said the government probe would ascertain if the area where the terminal was set up is rural.

In a recent letter to the heads of the urban development and land and land reforms departments, transport secretary Alapan Bandopadhayay has sought an inquiry into the details of the land that the company holds.

“After a thorough search and examination of all the files and records, it appears the said truck terminal authorities has been holding/trying to hold an amount of ceiling surplus land at Dhulagarh for which… you are requested to immediately initiate enquiry and vesting process…” the letter says.

Before ordering the probe, the transport department had three months ago nullified the deal, terming the agreement between the CMTTL and the Left government “illegal”. Subsequently, the department engaged Fox and Mondal, a solicitor firm, to check the details of the agreement. The agency found several irregularities, including the holding of ceiling-excess land.

The Dhulagarh truck terminal was inaugurated by then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on July 3, 2004, to regulate the entry of trucks into Calcutta and check their emission levels. The terminal has space for 1,000 trucks and 1,500 medium and small goods vehicles.

The concept of land ceiling exists only in Bengal and is often described as a draconian provision coming in the way of industrial development. Although the Left government had introduced the provision in the late seventies, the Trinamul administration is yet to scrap it.

After the investors’ meet in Mumbai, where industrialists cited land ceilings as a major hurdle for setting up industry in Bengal, the Mamata Banerjee government took steps to free land for commercial use. The government had announced in August that it had identified 10,000 acres, which would be exempted from any ceiling under the act, for projects in rural areas.

Although the government has fast-tracked land clearance under Section 14Y of the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Act, 1955, and has expanded the list of industries that can hold ceiling-excess land, sources said there was no immediate possibility of the Urban Land Ceiling Act being abolished.

Dinesh Bajaj said CMTTL paid Rs 8,000 a month to the government, terming the royalty a petty sum in a developed area like Howrah.