The Telegraph
Tuesday , September 2 , 2014
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Bengal’s lease-for-peace land model

- Deal on Shrachi project solves a problem, raises a question
Work resumes at the site. Picture by Munshi Muklesur Rahaman

Burdwan, Sept. 1: A new land allocation model has sprouted in Bengal, throwing up “opportunities” in a state where syndicates have struck deep roots.

The experiment, right now confined to the Renaissance residential township being built by the Calcutta-based Shrachi Group on the outskirts of Burdwan town, has the following features:

• The Burdwan Development Authority (BDA) and the Shrachi Group will lease out to agitating land-losers a part of the plot. In this case, 30 acres out of the 254.74-acre project will be given to a cooperative society of the land-losers for Re 1 for 99 years.

• In return, the agitators will have to ensure that all forms of protests and litigation against the project are withdrawn. The dharna manch and other obstructions will have to be removed from the project.

• The agitators will have to ensure the removal of all encroachers and trespassers.

• Their cooperative will have to ensure the membership of all project-affected people (650 in this case).

• The society is free to do whatever it wants to do with the 30 acres. In this case, the land-losers say they will go into real estate — the same activity that Shrachi is undertaking on the rest of the land. Nothing prevents the society from leasing it back to Shrachi or any other developer.

• Needless to say, the deal has the blessings of the local Trinamul leadership.

If the “model” is replicated elsewhere in Bengal, investors may have to keep some land (over 10 per cent in this case) surplus to buy peace and defuse protests.

The Shrachi project land was acquired by the Left government in 2006 for setting up a Rs 1,000-crore residential township on a public-private partnership model. Shrachi is run by S.K. Todi and his two sons Rahul and Ravi, who were in the news when a fire devastated AMRI, Dhakuria, in 2011.

Around 250 villagers, mostly Trinamul supporters, have been squatting in protest at the site under the banner of the Paschim Barddhaman Krishi Kalyan Samiti since October last year.

The protesters were asking the company to pay them Rs 86 lakh per acre — over eight times the price (Rs 10.4 lakh) they were paid during the acquisition. The land-losers also demanded jobs and developed plots inside the project area. Real estate sources said the land might fetch higher prices now because it had been developed.

At a tripartite meeting among the land-losers, the BDA and the Shrachi Group on Friday, the new deal was finalised and a memorandum of understanding was signed by the three parties.

“We finally decided to lease out 30 acres as it was not possible for us or Shrachi to either pay the huge money they were demanding or return the land to them. The agitators had stalled work. The final settlement will be done after the land-losers comply with all the conditions within four months,” said Amit Dutta, the BDA chief executive officer.

The meeting was held at the office of the BDA chairman, Rabiranjan Chatterjee, the Trinamul leader who is also the technical education minister and local MLA. “The land-losers can go for real-estate business or sub-lease the plots for residential purposes like Shrachi,” Chatterjee said today.

The land-losers said they were happy with the decision and had withdrawn the dharna from the project site.

Some of them said that they would do real-estate business as the land had been developed and was no longer fit for cultivation.

“Work has resumed at our project after a long gap and now we want to carry out the work peacefully and finish it soon. We are happy that the land-losers have agreed with us,” said Sanjay Banerjee, vice-president of the Shrachi group.