The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singur sparks higher land payoff plan

Calcutta, Sept. 22: If a proposal being worked out by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government bears fruit, farmers whose land is being acquired for industry might get double its market value as compensation.

However, this will happen only if Delhi agrees to the state’s proposal and amends the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

According to the proposal being drawn up by the land and land reforms department, the state proposes to raise the existing 30 per cent “solatium” — damages paid for hurt feelings — to 60 per cent and offer an additional compensation of 30 per cent.

Officials said the govern-ment was forced to mull the hike in compensation after it faced a spirited resistance to land acquisition from farmers in Singur.

“We will have to acquire vast stretches of land for several industrial projects in the near future. We are thinking of revising the compensation package so that farmers find it easier to give up their land,” land minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said today.

The government will soon write to Union rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh proposing the amendment to the 112-year-old law along these lines.

According to the law, the compensation for land acquired should be 140 per cent of its market value —market value plus 30 per cent solatium and 10 per cent for those giving up land voluntarily. In case of a delay in payment, farmers are entitled to a 12 per cent interest.

Although Mollah declined to reveal the solatium rate that his department would propose to the Centre, officials said it could be to the tune of 60 per cent with an additional 30 per cent compensation.

If the law is amended, land losers will get 200 per cent of the land market value as compensation —market value plus 60 per cent solatium plus 30 per cent additional compensation and 10 per cent for consent.

Two years ago, the state government had turned down the Centre’s proposal to raise the solatium to 60 per cent.

“Then the Government of India had written to all states, seeking their view. Bengal opposed the proposal and said it was willing to consider a solatium of only 45 per cent. The Centre did not get back to us and the amendment never took place,” Mollah said.

Circumstances have now forced the state to think otherwise. The government has to acquire around 50,000 acres over the next few months for industry.

Land officials said the state wants the new compensation rates to be applicable across the country. “No state should be allowed to get away paying less to the farmers and enjoy an advantage over others.”

Originally, the solatium under the land acquisition act was 15 per cent. It was doubled in 1984.

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