BJP dusts land plank for polls

Siliguri: The BJP has started highlighting some central land acquisitions in north Bengal for key projects and contrasting it with the Mamata Banerjee-led state government's land policy, blamed for slamming the brakes on development plans.

According to BJP insiders, the move is aimed at underlining ahead of next year's general elections the Narendra Modi government's success in delivering infrastructure projects that involve land acquisitions.

As a part of the strategy, the BJP has started showcasing two Asian Highways nearing completion within three-and-a-half years, unlike some old projects where the state is yet to arrange land. The highways pass through Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar. They connect Bangladesh with Nepal and Bhutan.

BJP leaders plan to use the land plank in the Lok Sabha poll campaign in north Bengal, where the party won the Darjeeling seat in 2009 and 2014. Two of the three Assembly seats it bagged in the 2016 polls are in north Bengal. The party also scored big in the recent panchayat polls, bagging several seats, especially in Alipurduar and North Dinajpur.

"The debate on development with a focus on policies is an indication of healthy politics. Instead of indulging in mudslinging, it is desirable that parties debate such issues," said Soumen Nag, a political expert based in Siliguri.

According to an official, those who gave land for the Asian Highways got nearly four times the market value of their plots. The amount was double in urban areas.

"This is because land was acquired under the National Highways Act, 1956, and compensation paid under a central act of 2013 (Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013)," said an official.

The state has not accepted the 2013 central act so far and goes by a direct purchase policy under which a land-loser can get 1.5 times the market value.

"People should know that because of the state's faulty land policy, development projects have suffered in north Bengal," said Praveen Agarwal, BJP president, Siliguri (organisational) district.

Agarwal cited the East-West Corridor - a four-lane highway passing through the region - and the expansion of Bagdogra airport as examples of projects still incomplete as the state has not been able to get land.

According to Agarwal, those who parted with land for the Asian Highways got more compensation and the rehabilitation process was faster. On the other hand, those who need to part with land for a bypass in Islampur, North Dinajpur, are dissatisfied with the state's compensation and are still protesting, Agarwal said.

Trinamul leaders are not convinced. "The Asian Highways were funded by international agencies and the projects are being executed by the state PWD department. The Centre has simply routed the funds and cannot claim credit," said Sourav Chakraborty, the Alipurduar Trinamul MLA and chairman of Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority.

Additional Reporting by Anirban Choudhury in Alipurduar


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