Kolkata: The Trinamool Congress rode to power earlier this year on the strength of popular resentment against the acquisition of land for commercial development, but farmers in West Bengal seeking higher compensation say the party is no longer as receptive to their demands.
That maybe because, while the Trinamool Congress-led state government has said it won’t acquire private property for industrial use, it is keen on creating jobs and is, therefore, allotting land seized by its predecessor to companies.
Construction in full swing in New Town, Rajarhat. File photo.
At stake in one instance is a 50-acre plot on the outskirts of Kolkata that was acquired by the state government four years ago as part of the Rajarhat township development and has now been given to Infosys Ltd to set up a development centre.
Some 50 families with an estimated combined landholding of 20 acres are refusing to give up their land unless they are paid the market price, according to local people. The government, however, denied there were any stumbling blocks.
“There is no complication,” said Debashis Sen, principal secretary of the urban development department. “There are only a few farmers, maybe one or two, who continue to oppose the acquisition. The issue will be sorted out; Infosys won’t face any difficulty.”
Infosys declined to comment for this story.
The plot couldn’t be given to anyone after it had been acquired because the erstwhile owners wouldn’t move, although the land had been taken from them legally. The former owners continued to farm the land until as late as a month or so ago.
In 2008, the erstwhile Left Front government got into an agreement with a private developer to create an information technology (IT) township, but the project collapsed after the state’s partner was caught coercing people to sell land.
Infosys was to be given land in the aborted IT township, and after the plan was called off three years ago, the software services firm said that it wouldn’t consider setting up a development centre in Kolkata in the foreseeable future. The current site was allotted to Infosys a year ago, but it was only after the April-May assembly election that it was made clear to the company that the site given to it wouldn’t be taken back amid cancellation of several such allotments made by the previous government.
When it acquired the land in 2007, the state government had offered landowners Rs 14,500 a cottah, or Rs 870,000 an acre, but some of them refused to receive payment as a protest. A cottah is one-sixtieth of an acre. These people are now demanding 40 times that amount as “fair compensation”, citing market prices of adjoining properties.
The police is keeping a close watch on the site and graffiti opposing the development centre has been removed from the neighbourhood by the administration, according to the farmers.
“The Trinamool Congress, which backed us in our fight to secure our rights, is now asking us to cooperate with the administration for the sake of industrialists,” said 50-year-old Islam Biswas, who used to harvest three crops a year from his 2- acre plot until it was seized from him.
Some 100 landowners had refused to receive payment in protest at the time of acquisition, according to Bijoy Naskar, another former landowner from the neighbourhood. The number has dwindled over the years, and those that continue to hold out don’t have much hope. “We can do little on our own,” added Naskar, who currently runs a tea stall out of a shack.
A 10-page list of so-called unwilling farmers, or those who protested against the acquisition by not accepting payment, was recently submitted to the state government along with a memorandum seeking higher compensation, according to the local panchayat, or the village council, head Momotaz Mollah, who spoke through her husband Zulfiqar Mollah. But the government hasn’t responded.