The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land bill with some water thrown in

Calcutta, Aug. 2: The CPM today agreed to water down portions of the controversial land reforms bill to blunt resistance from its ruling allies to the amendments that seek to scrap the ceiling on land holdings.

The mood-management exercise came after the party's minor partners yesterday called for withdrawal of the proposed legislation that would give the government special powers to take over unlimited tracts in both rural and urban areas and distribute them for commercial purposes.

The CPM says the West Bengal Land Reforms (Amend-ment) Bill, 2005, is crucial to development but its allies fear it would lead to grabbing of farmland by industrialists and multinationals.

The CPM today held two meetings, one with the Forward Bloc and then with all its front partners. Sources said at the first meeting, the CPM leadership appeared willing to concede ground with regard to certain aspects of the bill.

The Bloc leadership, which yesterday had objected to the bill, was silent at the other meeting, which lasted two hours. Other minor partners like the RSP, Biplabi Bangla Congress and the Democratic Socialist Party were surprised by the Bloc leaders' 'silence'.

Tonight's front meeting turned stormy with allies accusing the CPM of bypassing them on key issues.

Later, CPM politburo member Biman Bose said 'we have reached a consensus on the bill through discussions'.

'Misgivings among front partners about the bill have been cleared,' Bose, who is also the Left Front chairman, added.

Bloc chief Ashok Ghosh said: 'We are happy with tonight's discussion.'

Bose said the government would table the bill in the Assembly on Thursday.

'But we will oppose the bill tooth and nail when it is tabled in the House,' said Trinamul Congress chief whip Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay.

According to front sources, the bill would also enable the government to use the land of closed industrial units for construction of commercial complexes. 'However, no individual entrepreneur will be allowed to use the land for commercial purpose. Instead, it must be a joint venture,' said a front leader who was present at tonight's meeting.

Later, Bloc MLA Hafiz Alam Sairani, the minister for relief and rehabilitation, said the party welcomed the CPM's decision to amend the controversial issue concerning 'ceiling on both urban and rural land', but refused to elaborate.

Sources said today's development must also be seen against the backdrop of land and land reforms minister Abdul Rezzak Mollah's rebellion against chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's initiative.

They said the CPM leadership was forced to adopt a conciliatory approach as it found itself facing Mollah's ultimatum. It was clear to party bosses at Alimuddin Street that it would be difficult for the government to find 5,000 acres for the Indonesia-based Salim group, which has proposed a large township in South 24-Parganas where Mollah and his group are a dominant force.

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