Kolkata: A year and a half after it beat a hasty retreat from Nandigram, the West Bengal government has restarted the legal process of land acquisition for Indonesia’s Salim Group-promoted New Kolkata International Development Pvt Ltd (NKID), which had proposed to build a chemical hub in the area—a proposal that was stalled due to vehement protests from the locals.
Some 14 people were killed in Nandigram in police firing in 2007 during the agitation against the land acquisition.
The government has since moved the chemical hub, which is to be developed through a joint venture between NKID and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corp., to a new site—a 64 sq. km island called Nayachar, situated on the Hooghly river off Haldia port in East Midnapore district.
While the state government is waiting for the Union cabinet’s formal approval to launch the chemical hub project, it has started issuing public notices for land acquisition for an 82km highway to be built by NKID to connect Nayachar with Kolkata. The connecting road is crucial because without it the proposed chemical hub might not be viable. The government wouldn’t, however, need to acquire land for the chemical hub because it owns the island.
The Indonesian conglomerate and real estate firm Unitech Ltd own 40% each in NKID. The rest is held by Universal Success Enterprises Ltd, a firm promoted by Prasoon Mukherjee who manages Salim Group’s business interests in India.
Worried that the Trinamool Congress might again kick up a row over land acquisition for the proposed road, the government is treading cautiously. In the first phase, it proposes to acquire as little as 15.33 acres, whereas it needs around 2,000 acres in all spread over two districts—North and South 24 Parganas.
The state’s land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezaak Mollah admitted that the government was trying to keep things under wraps, but in keeping with the laws of land acquisition, it had published the so-called section 4 notifications, or advertisements announcing land acquisition plans, in two regional language dailies on 12 and 15 January. “Right now we are moving very cautiously...and with the consensus of local people looking to acquire a small area,” said Mollah.
The advertisements were so small that even the opposition parties missed them. Arabul Islam, Trinamool Congress legislator from Bhangar in South 24 Parganas district, said, “There’s been no notification yet.”
Having learnt from its mistake in Nandigram, the government has this time got a survey done by the Institute of Environmental Studies and Wetland Management, a non-governmental organization (NGO). Nitai Kundu, chief technical officer of the NGO, said his team had identified some 2,000 acres for the proposed road, and 8,000 acres for a township, which, too, is to be built by NKID.
Because the government expects the Union cabinet to grant its approval to the chemical hub project soon, it decided to start the legal process of the land acquisition for the road, said an official of the state’s commerce and industries department. The two are linked projects, and delay in acquiring land for the road could delay the chemical hub, too, explained this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.