Kolkata: In an indication that the West Bengal government is bending over backward to restart stalled infrastructure projects ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, it has offered to pay Rs7.5 crore for the acquisition of a 2.56 acre plot in Dankuni that it needs to build a railway overbridge.
The compensation—Rs2.92 crore an acre—is the highest the state government has ever paid. The offer, which has recently been cleared by the state’s finance department, was made after two years of negotiation with some 236 owners of the 2.56 acre plot failed, according to Kshiti Goswami, West Bengal’s minister for public works.
Land tussle: A July photo of Tata Motors’ Nano factory at Singur in West Bengal. The state government had paid around Rs140 crore, or an average of Rs14 lakh an acre, to acquire 997 acres for the factory. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
Compensation for acquisition of another small plot needed for a similar railway overbridge at Baruipur in South 24 Parganas district is also being raised “substantially”, Goswami said.
In Singur, which is a few kilometres from Dankuni, the state government had paid around Rs140 crore, or Rs14 lakh an acre on an average, to acquire 997 acres for Tata Motors Ltd’s now abandoned small car factory. The compensation offered to farmers in Singur was widely seen as inadequate, and was held responsible for the unrest that forced Tata Motors to move its Nano car factory to Gujarat. Since then, several industrial and infrastructure projects in West Bengal have ground to a halt because the state government couldn’t acquire land.
Road works across West Bengal have stopped, and the worst hit are two national highways—NH 34 and NH 35— that were to be broadened, according to Goswami, who blames opposition parties in the state for holding up these projects.
However, an official in the public works department said it was the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, that backed the people who held up the railway overbridge in Dankuni for two years.
“Had the area not been a CPM stronghold, the state government wouldn’t have offered such high compensation,” added this official who did not want to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.
Dankuni has traditionally been a CPM bastion. The state government has abandoned DLF Ltd’s proposed 4,840 acre housing project in Dankuni because it didn’t want to take on locals.
At least Rs358 crore of sanctioned funds from the Union government and the Asian Development Bank are lying unused because of stalled road projects, said T. K. Mazumdar, chief executive officer of West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, an arm of the state government that builds rural roads. “Work on more than 100 roads is in trouble because people wouldn’t part with even small plots of land,” he added.
In 2008-09, the state could build 900km of new roads to connect only 400 villages under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, or PMGSY—a funding scheme of the Union government for building rural roads—whereas it had planned to spread rural road connectivity to 1,704 new villages at the beginning of the fiscal year, according to Mazumdar. The target during the current fiscal year was to build around 1,600km of rural roads, slightly higher than what the state had built in 2007-08.
Road works under PMGSY were worst-hit in districts such as East Midnapore, West Midnapore, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly that have witnessed unrest over land acquisition for industrial projects, Goswami said. “Even construction of railway overbridges, which typically need very little land, couldn’t be done because of (the unrest in) Singur and Nandigram,” he added.