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Test of direct land purchase

- Supreme Industries plans to acquire 49 acres in Kharagpur
Amit Mitra

Calcutta, Jan. 13: A Mumbai-based company has proposed to buy land directly in Kharagpur for its second unit in Bengal.

Industries minister Amit Mitra today announced that Supreme Industries Ltd had given an undertaking saying it would not force land owners to part with their plots. The plastic-processing company, which manufactures furniture and has a unit in Durgapur, will acquire 49 acres for the Kharagpur unit.

“They have given an affidavit saying they will not force any land owner to sell their plots and will follow all norms set by the government…. Based on the affidavit, the cabinet committee on infrastructure, industry and employment today approved the proposal to allow the company to buy and hold 49 acres,” Mitra said.

Although the land ceiling act allows holding of 24.2 acres in rural areas and 7.5 cottahs (0.123 acres) in urban areas, the government can legalise holding of ceiling-excess land under Section 14Y of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955.

Senior state government officials today said the proposal of Supreme Industries was being considered significant as few private investors had till now expressed interest in buying land directly.

Last month, central power utility NTPC had expressed interest to directly buy around 150 acres that remain to be acquired for its proposed plant in Burdwan’s Katwa. But the company has failed to make much headway in acquiring the land.

“The ball has now started rolling and if the company (Supreme) can buy land successfully and without any trouble, it will send a positive message,” a senior state government official said.

Officials mentioned that 49 acres was too small a size to test the viability of the government’s policy of not acquiring land for private firms.

Sources in the land department said that given the small size of land holdings in and around Kharagpur, the company would have to handle more than a 100 land owners before sealing the deal.

“The experience of the company will be closely watched as it will become a test case,” an official said.

Mitra today made it clear that the government would intervene if land owners lodged any complaint about forceful acquisition by Supreme.

“The company has given an affidavit saying it will not force anybody nor will violate any norm…. If any complaint comes up, the government will intervene,” Mitra said.

Government intervention, however, will be difficult in some cases. There have been instances of local land mafia coercing people to sell off their land at throwaway prices after coming to know of industrial projects in the area.

“The local people do not dare complain against the land mafia,” said an official.

Although the industries minister was confident that land in Kharagpur would be purchased without any hitch, government officials said several issues had to be settled to make the process smooth.

A direct purchase initiative of the Bengal government fell flat when a plan to connect Bhatar and Mangalkot in Burdwan by laying a bridge over the Kunnur river was stalled after the PWD failed to procure 15.02 acres directly.

There are often problems over who will determine the price of the land.

A Supreme official in Mumbai said the company would invest Rs 200 crore to build the plastic processing plant in the next 6-12 months.

“We have given an advance to the farmers who willingly agreed to sell their plots. The land parcels will be registered in the company’s name now,” the official said.

Mamata appeal

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee urged industrialists at a core committee meeting on Monday to spruce up the image of Bengal.

Representatives of the chambers of commerce said the chief minister should go to events organised by them more often and interact with the investors. Mamata said that would not be possible because she had several other commitments.

She also urged the industry to invest in agriculture and fish farming.