The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land icing on CM’s Salim success

Jakarta, Aug. 25: If the agreement with the Salim Group bowled Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee over, it was the unprecedented land deal that could prove to be its other winning argument.

The chief minister was confident the arrangements over land would silence his critics and see the project through on time.

Unlike in any other projects before, the Salim Group would pay for the acquisition of land for the international economic zone it would build. It will hold the land on agreed lease terms and then hand it back to the government.

The Indonesian firm will also bear the expenses for the resettlement of the people who would be displaced by the project. In addition, people for whom the lost land provided the only livelihood would be given “alternative means of livelihood” in the project.

All this will considerably ease the cash-starved Bengal government’s burden of paying compensation to land-losers and of providing them alternative employment.

If the Salim Group would thus help the Bengal government, the chief minister ' and his party, the CPM ' sought to minimise the political risks of the acquisition of land and displacement of farmers by compromising on the area of the project.

“I had got Rezzak Molla (the land reforms minister) and the Krishak Sabha to identify the land before I came here,” a beaming chief minister said.

The compromise formula ' arrived at after debate and bargaining within the party ' was that the government would acquire “fallow and mono-crop land as far as practicable”. And, the project land ' or the land for roads ' would avoid villages and densely populated areas.

“We need land for the economy to progress from agriculture to industry. But we have to remember two things ' that ours is an agricultural economy in which farming provides for employment of 65 per cent of the population and that we cannot destroy our food security.”

Bhattacharjee was thus not too worried over the threats of agitation by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress and other political parties which have opposed the acquisition of land for the Salim Group project.

Even so, he knew that the issue would dominate Bengal’s politics in the run-up to the Assembly elections next year.

But Bhattacharjee is all set to win the battle for Bengal’s new industrialisation ' something he is convinced the state can no longer delay.

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