Dankuni, West Bengal: The countryside around Dankuni town in Hooghly district could well be the next flashpoint over land acquisition in West Bengal, where DLF Ltd, India’s largest developer by market capitalization, proposes to build a township spread over 4,840 acres.
The state has seen violent protests over land transfer in the recent past in Singur, barely 20km from here, where Tata Motors Ltd is building its small car factory, and at Nandigram, where the government had to backtrack on setting up a chemicals hub, instead selecting Nayachar island on the Hooghly river for the complex.
There’ll be a bloodbath worse than Nandigram if the government tries to acquire land here, warned Sheikh Dilwar Hussain, a Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind activist in Dankuni’s Panchghora village.
The Jamiat’s political arm People’s Democratic Conference of India, or PDCI, was part of an alliance that fiercely opposed the government’s bid to acquire land in Nandigram.
At Dankuni, PDCI has formed a political alliance comprising ultra-Left parties, such as the Socialist Unity Centre of India and the Naxalites to oppose DLF’s township plans.
The PDCI-led Dankuni Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, something similar to the alliance at Nandigram, however, does not include the state’s main opposition party All India Trinamool Congress, or TMC, led by Mamata Banerjee.
“We had asked the Trinamool to join in an all-out battle against the government’sattempt to grab land, like in Nandigram, but they didn’t want to. So, it is better to go down fighting once and for all, but we will not partner them,” said Ali Afzal Chand, who was Hooghly district president of PDCI.
Alarmed by the developments, the government has postponed its plans of acquiring land till after the local panchayat polls on 14 May. DLF’s project is already trailing deadlines by at least a year.
The realty firm bagged the contract to build the township through a competitive bid in February 2007 by offering to pay around Rs56 lakh an acre. It also offered to employ at least one person from every family displaced by the project. “We will not get into land acquisition. The government has to do that for us. We are ready to wait,” said a DLF official in Kolkata, requesting anonymity.
The local body polls are being fought over the land acquisition issue.
But the split in the ranks of those opposed to it have bettered the chances of a win by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM.
“We are going to win with a resounding majority,” said Bhakta Ram Paan, CPM’s state legislator from the area, who is also a member of the land procurement committee for Dankuni.
“Land acquisition will not be an issue. The compensation that’s being offered will get people to voluntarily part with their land,” he said. The government is yet to announce how much it will pay landowners.
The opposition, however, isn’t giving up. PDCI’s Chand said, “We are only contesting in those seats in which we could put together 25 lathis (strong men) who can match the might of CPM cadres. We are no grazers. We’ll match them blow-for-blow.”
The resistance to transfer land stems not only from fears of displacement but also from the impression that the government is going make a huge killing by selling close to 5,000 acres to DLF.
“The land procurement committee had offered Rs7 lakh an acre for fallow land, Rs12 lakh for multi-crop land, and Rs14 lakh for homesteads. We have heard that the builder has offered Rs58 lakh an acre to the government. So, why should we let the government make money out of land owned by us?” asks TMC supporter Pradeep Sarkar, who lives in an area of Dankuni that the government is looking to acquire land for the proposed township.
It is unlikely that the government will backtrack this time, said a senior bureaucrat who did not wish to be named, but the panchayat elections might well determine the road map for acquisition.
“We are watching things closely. If the PDCI manages to establish substantial support through the polls, we might have to rework our plans a bit. The map (of the project area) has already changedseveral times. We might have to make more changes,” the official said.