West Bengal to help speed up border fencing
The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to fast-track land purchases for the Bangladesh border fencing, with sources saying the move is an attempt to thwart politicisation of the issue by the BJP at a time the debate on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is raging in the state.
For the last five-six years, the Union home ministry (MHA) has been prodding Nabanna to aid the fencing process by arranging land. The state government, however, had been going slow citing its hands-off land policy. This prompted Delhi to allow the state to go for direct land purchases instead of the acquisition route.
“Suddenly, there seems to be an urgency in buying land. There is a shift in policy,” said a source.
India and Bangladesh share a 4,096km border, of which 2216km is in Bengal. The Narendra Modi government, in its first term, had set a target of fencing more than 900km of the border, mainly in south Bengal, as the remaining stretch was either riverine or did not require fencing because of the tough terrain, the sources said.
Over the last four years, the state government could hand over about 800 acres on which more than 400km of fence could be erected.
“Now with the NRC becoming an issue, the state is in no mood to take chances. The BJP can use the state government’s apparent non-co-operation to give the impression that the Trinamul regime is encouraging illegal migration. That’s why the districts along the borders have been asked to arrange land,” said an official.
Districts like North 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda, North and South Dinajpurs and Cooch Behar have been told to lay stress on buying land for the fencing project on an urgent basis.
“The districts are trying to buy 1,000 acres. Nabanna is monitoring the progress of the process. The approval for buying 1,000 acres was sent to the districts few months ago and the progress is encouraging,” said a senior official.
Another official said the progress over the past few months had prompted the state to give approval for buying another 400 acres for the project soon. “It appears that in the next few months, the state would be able to hand over a total of 1,400 acres to the MHA. Buying about 1,400 acres is an achievement in less than one year given that the state could buy only about 800 acres for the project in the past four years,” the official said._
Sources in Nabanna said that the progress in land procurement process hinted the state government’s attention in arranging land for the fencing project.
“The government was earlier facing trouble to arrange land for state-run projects by procuring land directly in districts like North 24-Parganas and Nadia. But in this case, procurement has progressed smoothly so far. This happened only because of constant monitoring from the top brass of the government,” a source said.
BJP leaders have declared that NRC would be implemented in Bengal, saying illegal migration from the neighbouring country has created trouble for the common citizens.
The campaign was seen to have helped the BJP reap dividends in this year’s Lok Sabha polls as the saffron party bagged seats like Bongaon and Ranaghat, located near the Bangladesh border which were earlier known as Trinamul bastions.
“But once the state hands over required land to the Centre for the fencing project, the state’s stand on illegal migration from neighbouring country cannot be questioned. This will definitely help Trinamul counter the BJP’s accusation of taking a soft stance on illegal migration ahead of the 2021 Assembly polls,” said an government official.