Policy retreat in West Bengal

Policy retreat in West Bengal
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First Published: Thu, Jun 05 2008. 12 09 AM IST
Updated: Thu, Jun 05 2008. 12 09 AM IST
The Left’s retreat from its land acquisition policy, the centrepiece of its efforts at industrialization in West Bengal, is now complete. At least that’s the signal that one gets from its lukewarm attitude on acquiring land for the DLF township in Dankuni, near Kolkata. The change comes after the Left’s reversal in local bodies elections in the state last month.
DLF had outbid other rivals for the 4,840-acre township project in July 2006. It had offered more than Rs2,700 crore or roughly Rs56 lakh per acre. On Tuesday, West Bengal urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya said his government would not acquire land forcibly for the project.
Small players have acquired more than 2,000 acres of land at Dankuni in the last two years, making it clear that DLF would be in no position to acquire land for its project. The logic of such piecemeal acquisitions by small players, as experience across India shows, is to make a killing when bigger players enter the land market in such situations.
The Left’s great failure does not lie in being unable to persuade people to part with their land. It lies elsewhere. It failed to create an appropriate policy environment where perverse incentives don’t throttle investors. It had the opportunity to do so, for at the Centre it has taken all manner of policy initiatives (from providing intellectual leadership to ideas such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, among others). Ideological blinkers and the fear that it would be seen as pro-business (which is what it tried to be, through the backdoor, in Singur and Nandigram) locked its mind.
Instead, it tried a political fix to the problem by bringing the state in and coercing people into submission. That never works. Smart legislation that would prevent holdouts by fly-by-night operators was called for. It was never thought of. How have other countries overcome this problem? What mechanisms can be created to discourage land speculation? Are there political alternatives to the power of eminent domain? These were the questions it never seriously applied its mind to. It should have. As a result, it now faces serious political risks in its bastion after ruling it without opposition for 31 years.
What prevented the Left from seeing the land issue clearly? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 05 2008. 12 09 AM IST