Bidhan Market, the largest retail marketplace in Siliguri, has emerged as the new focal point of political parties, especially the BJP and Trinamul, on the issue of land rights, a longstanding demand of hundreds of traders with shops and stalls here.
In recent weeks, traders have reasserted their demand, while pointing out the majority of them don’t have any right to the land on which they operate their trade.
They resorted to protests and rallies, and even observed a business strike last week. The BJP expressed solidarity with traders and a number of leaders of the saffron camp, including Raju Bista, the Darjeeling MP, visited the market and met them.
On Monday, Bista sent letters to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and to governor C.V. Ananda Bose, seeking their intervention on the issue.
The market is located on 9.5 acres of which 2 acres were leased out permanently in 1967. Of the remaining 7.5 acres, a building was constructed and 160 shops were leased out.
However, the remaining 1,650 shops are yet to get their land rights. There are around 2,000 stalls in the market which too do not have any legal security.
“The state should stand with these traders. It is unfortunate that despite running shops for decades, they do not have the rights on land,” said Bista.
Sourav Chakraborty, the chairman of the Trinamul-led Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority, which owns the market since 1984, said the traders should approach the state government through it.
“We are ready to help them. But a decision has to be taken in the state cabinet. The BJP is simply politicising the issue,” he said.
Political observers said such reactions by the BJP and Trinamul are aimed to woo traders, their employees and others associated with the market.
“Most of them reside in and around Siliguri. If their families are taken into account, it would mean a vote-bank of around 50,000 people. That is why these parties are keen to win their support while flagging the issue of the livelihood of all those connected with the market,” said an observer.