Consent must to take land - Raichak expressway shelved: CM

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By OUR BUREAU
  • Published 17.08.08
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Aug. 17: The Bengal government will seek the consent of owners before acquiring land for industry and roads, according to an “official policy” announced by the chief minister.

The first official casualty of the policy will be the Salim group’s proposed Barasat-Raichak Expressway that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said had “stopped for the time being”.

“We will not force them (farmers and landholders). We will not work in that manner. We have decided that where the farmers or landowners do not want to part with land, we will not take land. We will still get land for industry, but with the consent of the people,” Bhattacharjee told a meeting at Phansidewa, about 20km from Siliguri, where title deeds for small plots were distributed among the rural poor.

“We have decided to do this officially from now on,” the chief minister added.

Bhattacharjee said the Raichak expressway had been shelved following objections from residents living along the route. “We have stopped the project for the time being because of the objections.”

The chief minister had signalled a go-slow on the project soon after the May panchayat polls — the Trinamul Congress had bagged the zilla parishad of South 24-Parganas in which the proposed expressway would have come up — by skipping a meeting on land acquisition. Industries minister Nirupam Sen had then said land would be acquired only after a “consensus at the grassroots level” but he had made it clear the projects would not be scrapped.

If the signals in May had suggested that the expressway was headed to the cold storage, the chief minister’s comments today have removed all doubt.

The timing of Bhattacharjee’s gesture is significant. It comes in the middle of efforts by the government to persuade Mamata Banerjee to hold talks with the Tatas before laying siege to Singur from August 24. Mamata has been making some pro-industry gestures though she has refused to budge from her stand that 400 acres “forcibly” acquired should be returned.

The chief minister’s comments today could be aimed at sending a signal that the government was not averse to addressing the Opposition’s concerns on the larger industrialisation debate. CPM veteran Jyoti Basu added his voice to Bhattacharjee’s, appealing to Mamata to come forward for a “compromise”. ( )

The Salim group, which will be the worst-affected if the consent policy is implemented, appears to have factored in the delay that had appeared inevitable ever since the CPM suffered setbacks in the rural polls.

“The government has not told us anything. Giving possession of the land is the state’s responsibility. We are ready to work…. But we also understand that land acquisition is a lengthy process. We are not in a hurry. We are here for the long term,” Prasun Mukherjee, director of NKID, told The Telegraph. NKID is the consortium, in which Salim is a partner, that will execute the expressway and other related projects.

“Our investment proposal ($5 billion) is the largest committed anywhere in Asia by a private player. Overall investment here will top $100 billion. After all, this project will compete with two similar ones in Visakhapatnam and Gujarat. The road is an integral part of the project. Investors will want seamless connectivity with the airport,” Mukherjee added.

In Siliguri, the chief minister reaffirmed his faith in the re-industrialisation drive but took care to address landholders’ concerns. “Land availability is static but the number of people keeps on growing. Where will the excess people go? Factories, business and trade are the options. You do not need much land to set up factories,” he said.