Kolkata: Singed by fierce resistance to farmland seizure in the past three years, which cost West Bengal key industrial projects such as Tata Motors Ltd’s small car factory in Singur, the state government has generously raised the price it is offering for land it is currently acquiring in the Burdwan, Purulia and Bankura districts.
In Andal in Burdwan district, where 2,300 acres is being acquired for a township integrated with an airport, the state government is now offering Rs7.5-11.24 lakh an acre, whereas until a few months ago it was offering Rs1.5-2 lakh.
The project is to be implemented by Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd (BAPL), a Kolkata-based company in which Singapore’s Changi Airports International Pte Ltd has a 26% stake.
Past imperfect: The Trinamool Congress’ 2008 sit-in demonstration to protest the Tata Motors Nano car project at Singur in West Bengal. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
“Because the compensation is so high, land acquisition (at Andal) is going on smoothly. We have already acquired 500 acres,” said Burdwan’s additional district magistrate and land acquisition officer Asim Bhattacharya.
The compensation that the state government had offered earlier for land at Andal was based on what people had paid to buy land there over the past one year, according to Bhattacharya. That’s how the “going rate” is determined under the formula laid down in the Land Acquisition Act, but now the state government is deciding the compensation through discussion with landowners.
Even in districts such as Purulia and Bankura, where agricultural yield is not as high as in the southern parts of West Bengal, the state government has raised compensation several times to fulfil farmers’ demands.
In Purulia district, the state government is now offering Rs4.5-5 lakh an acre for large tracts of land that it is looking to acquire for a number of iron and steel projects and Damodar Valley Corporation’s thermal power plant, whereas a year ago it was offering a maximum of Rs1 lakh an acre. The price of land in Purulia, too, was decided through discussions with local landowners.
Similarly, in Barjora in Bankura district, where the state government needs to acquire around 700 acres for Union government-owned minerals trading firm MMTC Ltd, the compensation has been raised from Rs3.5 lakh to Rs6.8 lakh an acre. The increase in compensation has resulted in almost everyone there agreeing to sell land for MMTC’s project, according an official of the state’s land and land reforms department, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We have to consider the future value of the land and determine the compensation accordingly,” said Abdur Rezzak Mollah, West Bengal’s land and land reforms minister. “Had we done this in the past, there would have been no resistance.”
So in most cases, the state government is now offering prices that “homestead land and land near the highway” command.
Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, is of the same view as Mollah. “Had the compensation been good, people would not have fought tooth and nail with the administration,” he said. “In Navi Mumbai, for instance, people voluntarily sold land because they got a good compensation.”
In Singur, too, the state government had in the end offered to raise the compensation, but by then, protests from locals led by the Trinamool Congress—the state’s main opposition party—had intensified so much that the auto maker had decided to pull the plug on the project.
In Singur, the state government had initially offered Rs9-12 lakh an acre based on the formula laid down in the Land Acquisition Act, but in the end it sweetened the compensation by offering 50% more. This, however, wasn’t eventually paid as the project was shelved.
“It doesn’t help to raise the compensation later,” said Sarkar. “By then, the state government had forcibly acquired land and people were up in arms... I think, it would have been better had Tata Motors acquired the land on its own. They would have paid market price, and people would have voluntarily sold land for the project.”
The companies for which the state government is currently acquiring land will have to pay for the increase in compensation, according to an official of the state’s commerce and industries department who did not want to be named.
“The state government won’t bear this cost. The lease rent is likely to go up. We are acquiring land only for those who can afford,” he added.
With Tata Motors, the state government couldn’t have raised the lease rent. It had offered a range of fiscal incentives, including a Rs76 crore subsidy on lease rent, to match the tax incentives that the Uttarakhand government had offered for the small car project.