Kolkata: The Left Front’s poor performance in the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha may have an unlikely victim: industrialization.
Making amends? West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee recently withdrew a proposal to acquire 120 acres of farmland in Kharagpur. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
On Thursday, in the first meeting of the state’s cabinet after poll results were announced on 16 May, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee voluntarily withdrew a proposal to acquire 120 acres of farmland in Kharagpur, 125km from Kolkata.
The move comes as analysts and even some insiders in the Left Front blame the state government’s industrialization drive, specifically attempts to acquire land at Nandigram and Singur that led to large-scale protests, for the poor showing in the elections. The Left Front won a mere 15 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats that went to the polls with the Trinamool Congress and its ally, the Congress, (together with an independent ally) winning 26.
An influential section in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and its partners such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Communist Party of India, or CPI, are up in arms against Bhattacharjee for the industrial policies introduced by the state government after the 2006 assembly elections.
CPI leader and minister for water resources Nandagopal Bhattacharya said on Thursday, the Left Front leaders had asked the chief minister to stop land seizure immediately. “Land should not be acquired without consensus, and multi-crop land should not be touched at all,” he added.
Elections to the state assembly are scheduled to be held in 2011 and more projects are likely to suffer the same fate the Kharagpur one did.
Even projects that have been cleared by the state cabinet may get stalled because the land and land reforms department of the state government isn’t willing to start land acquisition, say officers of the department who didn’t want to be identified. The land and land reforms department, headed by minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, acts as a facilitator for most industrial projects in the state by acquiring land.
The state’s urban development department wanted to acquire the land in Kharagpur to build a shopping mall, a stadium and an entertainment complex in partnership with a private developer.
The department, headed by minister Asok Bhattacharya, had even given a loan of Rs16 crore to Midnapore Kharagpur Development Authority, a local civic body,?for the proposed acquisition and had prepared a list of potential partners.
But in Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Bhattacharjee said the state government needed to study the proposal in greater detail before deciding on whether to start land acquisition, according to Kshiti Goswami, the state’s minister for public works and a leader of the RSP.
Asok Bhattacharya, whose department had proposed the project refused to comment on the development.
An officer at the land and land reforms department department said Mollah had decided to put on hold proposals to acquire land for Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd, which was to build a township integrated with an airport 180km from Kolkata; a 125-acre information technology hub on the north-eastern fringes of Kolkata; and a thermal power plant in Purulia district, for which 900 acres have already been acquired. The state cabinet had cleared proposals to acquire 2,300 acres for the township project, and 700 acres for the power plant.
“The only major land acquisition proposal that the minister (Mollah) has cleared is for an irrigation project, which needs around 3,000 acres of land. A few land acquisition proposals from the public health engineering department for supply of drinking water in North and South 24 Parganas districts have also been cleared. But he has asked us to go slow on everything else,” added this official, who did not wish to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.