Kolkata: In a major policy shift, the West Bengal government has decided to seek consent of sellers before acquiring large tracts of land for industries and avoid acquiring land for individual industrial projects, instead creating land banks for industrial clusters.
“Singur was our first brush with land acquisition. We have learnt a lot of lessons from it,” said Sabyasachi Sen, principal secretary in the state’s commerce and industries department. “For each growth centre we are planning, there may be an anchor investor, but we will avoid acquiring land for individual projects.”
The Left Front-led government’s decision comes after it suffered setbacks in panchayat, or local body, polls.
Under the new plan, the government will create land banks and turn them into industrial parks. For instance, companies looking to set up steel plants will be put in a cluster in the coal belt, and those planning food-processing units will be offered land in industrial parks in north Bengal.
The government acquired 997 acres in 2006 for Tata Motors Ltd’s small car factory in Singur in Hooghly district using the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The government said the acquisition was in public interest, which was challenged in court because the principal beneficiary was a company.
The government has now planned an elaborate consent gathering exercise, which would begin with the people likely to be displaced first deciding whether they want the industrial project. This will be followed by an initiative to build consensus among political parties on the proposed project.
“We hadn’t done these things in Singur, which is why there were a lot of problems,” said Sen.
Once it gets the consent, the government would form a committee comprising representatives of political parties and locals to decide land price and rehabilitation package. Thereafter, the government would seek to build consensus among landowners on compensation as well. “The aim is to reduce resistance to a minimum,” Sen said.
The government has already started conducting area-specific social audits to rehabilitate people. For this, the government had consulted leading institutions in the state such as Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta University and Jadavpur University.
West Bengal’s new game plan for industrialization is similar to what Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had suggested a year ago. “I think it is a big mistake of a tactical kind (to) not recognize that if land were available for industry in general, and not just for the Tatas, the value of the land would have been much greater,” Aamrtya Sen had told The Telegraph newspaper in an interview while commenting on the Singur land acquisition.
The commerce and industries secretary declined to say whether the decision to create large industrial parks was in any way influenced by the economist’s suggestions.