Kolkata: West Bengal is likely to make it compulsory for companies acquiring farmland for industrialization to provide alternative land to the displaced in addition to cash payouts mandated by law.
The draft of a new resettlement and rehabilitation policy suggests that companies allot a minimum of five cottahs, or 1-12th of an acre, to each individual losing an acre or more.
For those losing less than an acre, a small commercial space will have to be provided within the project area, which they could turn into a shop, said an official in the state’s commerce and industries department, on condition of anonymity.
This will be in addition to the cash compensation paid at the time of acquisition, which will be derived on the basis of a formula laid down in the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
“The idea is to make sure farmers benefit from the future appreciation in property prices. We have noticed industrialization has led to land prices going up several times,” the official said.
The department is keen to have the policy tabled during the current session of the legislative assembly, but the Communist Party of India (Marxist)—that leads West Bengal’s Left Front government—might take more time than expected to clear it, in which case it will be tabled in the next session, he said.
Although the government will not force companies to offer employment, it would make it mandatory for them to pay for training the displaced. “They’ll have to try to create direct and indirect employment for the affected people and help them develop the necessary skills,” the official added.
Ground rules: A file photo of the Tata Nano project at Singur. West Bengal is working on a policy whereby the purchasing firms will compensate land owners with alternative land and cash. (Subhankar Chakraborty / HT)
The government has discussed the new policy with firms looking to invest in West Bengal, according to commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen. “The feedback from investors is positive,” he said, declining to elaborate until the policy was tabled in the legislature.
The government also considered suggesting companies offer equity interest to displaced farmers. The idea germinated from the package offered by JSW Steel Ltd for its proposed steel plant in the state. The company has announced that farmers displaced by its project would be given shares in its subsidiary JSW Bengal Steel Ltd that will eventually be listed on stock exchanges.
“But we decided against it because we wanted to give farmers something they could easily relate to. Hence, land and not shares,” said an official of the land reforms department that was consulted while drafting the policy. He requested anonymity since he wasn’t authorized to speak before the policy was formally unveiled.
The government is likely to suggest specific measures to address the needs of the elderly, physically challenged or unemployable people.
Although Mint couldn’t ascertain what these measures are likely to be, it is expected that companies would be asked to offer pension to those who would not be able to land jobs.