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Aila relief at snail's pace - Land acquisition hurdle in embankment construction

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By DEBASISH CHATTOPADHYAY ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PRANESH SARKAR
  • Published 26.01.12
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Jan. 25: Construction and repair of Cyclone Aila-ravaged embankments in the Sunderbans have not started yet as the land acquisition process has been hit by demands of compensation by people without land-ownership documents and encroachers.

Around 4,000 of the 6,000 acres required for the project are occupied by people who don’t have valid papers. The farmers have refused to leave without compensation, but the government is in a fix because the relief can be given only to valid owners.

Mamata Banerjee had announced after coming to power that the embankments, lying damaged since the 2009 cyclone, would be repaired by October 23.

The South 24-Parganas administration recently sent a confidential note to the land and land reforms department requesting that the deadline for completing the acquisition process be extended.

“Earlier, it had been decided that the land would be acquired by October 2010. After the deadline was missed, no official one was fixed. We have requested the land department to give us time till March this year,” a district official said.

He, however, added it was “not clear” if the acquisition could be completed within such a short time span.

The Centre had allotted Rs 1,300 crore for the project but as work is yet to start, most of the amount is lying unspent.

Land officials said notices to acquire about 2,000 acres had been served so far and compensation declared for owners of about 1,500 acres. The note states that the authorities are facing problems over the remaining 4,000 acres. Many people have constructed houses on this land and have been living for more than 20 years.

According to the note, several farmers have failed to produce documents to back their claim that the land belongs to them. There are many who have claimed that their father or grandfather was the original owner of the land but no mutation had been done.

Several people have encroached on vested land and the district authorities said they were finding it difficult to evict them. A land department official said: “We can give compensation only to those who have been given pattas of vested land. We can’t compensate encroachers.” He said the department had “not got instructions to evict them”.

The official said the 4,000 acres were located in Sagar island, Gosaba, Basanti, Joynagar, Pathar Pratima, Canning, Namkhana, Kultali, Kakdwip and Mathurapur. Around 10 lakh people live here.

The residents said they would not leave till they were compensated. “My father started cultivating our plot 30 years ago. Now the government is asking us to show papers,” said Subal Naskar of Kultali. Haider Mollah of Canning said: “The administration is demanding documents to deprive us of the compensation.”

Landowners with valid documents will get the value of the land fixed by the government in addition to 30 per cent solatium and an interest of 12 per cent from the date of declaration of the valuation till the disbursal of cheques. Registered sharecroppers will be offered 50 per cent of the value of the land they cultivate and Rs 34,000 each.

Land department secretary R.D. Meena said: “The problems will be solved in keeping with the law. Those who have proper documents will get compensation.”

An estimated 778 acres of embankment in North and South 24-Parganas were damaged in the Aila. The embankments should be repaired before the monsoon, an official said.