The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land tussle on cabinet plate

Calcutta, Feb. 13: Just before the Assembly polls, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government appears to have got ensnared in a policy battle over three inter-locked issues: limits on urban landholdings, conversion of industry land and unlocking of large tracts from a few thousand closed and sick industrial units.

Officials said the battle, which has sucked into its vortex various government departments, private promoters and unions, will enter a decisive stage tomorrow when the cabinet meets to examine, and, if possible, greenlight the proposal for a Rs 1,500-crore township at Batanagar in South 24-Parganas.

'The outcome (of the Batanagar proposal) is going to determine the course of the chief minister's initiative in freeing acres blocked in closed and sick units and in resetting the limits on urban landholdings,' said a member of Bhattacharjee's secretariat.

Bengal is one of the few states to still retain the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act, 1976, which, coupled with the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act, determines use of existing or planned acquisition of vacant land for industries.

The Batanagar proposal envisages development of a township spread across about 300 acres in seven to 10 years. Historically in custody of Bata India Ltd, the tracts have just been transferred, by an agreement, to the Calcutta Metropolitan Group Ltd, a joint venture of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and United Credit Belani Group.

In its present form, the proposal is likely to face severe opposition in tomorrow's or any future cabinet meeting.

Abdur Rezzak Molla, the land and land reforms minister, and several government agencies have red-flagged it, raising two fundamental questions ' does Bata have any right to hand over what they describe as essentially government land to the new venture' Did the two take the government's consent'

Mollah's department has highlighted that under section 6(3) of the estates act, Bata ' or, for that matter, any private company having over 7.5 cottahs of vacant land ' cannot dispose of land either by way of sale, gift, mortgage or lease.

'We have informed the chief minister that all industry land is owned by the government, so we must either get market prices for such tracts or derive tangible benefits from them,' said a senior land official. 'That is possible only when we have a roadmap in place. A case-by-case approach may lead to litigation and open the floodgates for more such proposals.'

The Calcutta Metropolitan Group, led by Sumit Dabriwal, a city-based businessman known for such developments as Hiland Park on the EM Bypass, is hopeful about getting the Batanagar proposal off the ground soon.

Last month, the government cleared an almost identical ' or that is what the group thinks ' proposal from RPG Enterprises-owned CESC for a housing complex at Mulajore in North 24-Parganas where it has an abandoned plant.

Since Dabriwal and company took the subject to Bhattacharjee's secretariat a few weeks ago, another factor has begun to work in favour of the proposal ' the chief minister's positive outlook.

Dabriwal and his mates also want to believe that the presence of the CMDA in the picture ' like in the case of Harsh Vardhan Neotia's City Centre shopping mall in Salt Lake ' will help them quickly obtain permissions.

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