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Since 1st March, 1999
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CPM divided house in Assembly
Locking horns' (From top) Anil Biswas, Abdur Rezzak Molla and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee

Calcutta, Aug. 5: A day after he carried the Assembly with him in getting Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government to drop its initiative on lifting the rural land ceiling, land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Molla called for a wider debate on land-use pattern, an emotive issue in Bengal.

'It is a sensitive matter, it must be discussed on a broader platform involving experts from all walks,' Molla said in the Assembly while participating in a motion moved by Pankaj Banerjee, the Trinamul Congress MLA and leader of Opposition.

'There must be a consensus on framing comprehensive rules on land use, Molla said. 'It is immaterial what a few ministers or MLAs like us say in the House' people must be given a chance to express their opinion on the alarming shrinkage of agricultural land in the name of development.'

The CPM leadership, which appeared defensive after the government was yesterday forced to drop the provision in the West Bengal Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2005, that sought to do away with the rural land ceiling, today tried to contain the Molla effect. An effort to create room for the government to manoeuvre was also apparent.

But like yesterday, important members from the ruling party such as former minister of state for land and land reforms Kamalendu Sanyal virtually crossed over the ideological line to support the motion.

'There is no concrete or comprehensive plan guiding land use'. In Bengal, one can use tracts of lands in every which way he likes. This must stop,' many CPM and Left legislators said.

Banerjee, while bringing the motion, charged the government with handing over large chunks of land to property developers without any mechanism to monitor their use.

In his reply, Molla said at least 50,000 acres of fertile and multiple-crop producing land would be made non-agricultural every year.

'If we do not control the rampant conversion of agricultural land in the name of development, we will be faced with a grave situation in the near future. We may get modern townships or malls or sophisticated industrial units on thousands of hectares of agricultural land, but the farmer will be killed and food security jeopardised,' said the minister, locked in a battle with his own government on the issue.

'We cannot deny reality... we do not have large tracts of land. But why should 5,000 acres be needed for a township' Molla asked, possibly taking a dig at the Indonesian conglomerate Salim group's proposed special economic zone and township in his bailiwick, South 24-Parganas. The project has the government's blessings.

Molla came under intense pressure from a section of the party brass to withdraw his observation that he had 'reservations about certain portions of the (land reforms) bill'.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas tried to prevail on Molla through the day and make him deny what he had said. Government chief whip Rabin Deb was also deployed to persuade him to issue a denial.

But having campaigned against the bill in and outside the party over the past few weeks, the minister showed no remorse. He said: 'Of course I had reservations and I expressed them in the House. Why should I retract now'

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