The West Bengal government, which has been heavily criticized for land acquisition for industrial projects in the state, says state-led efforts are the only way to acquire large tracts of land. This goes against the Union government’s diktat to states to disengage from purchasing land for investors.
The state government says it has prepared a letter that it plans to send to the Centre stating its views on state-led land acquisition for large industrial projects in special economic zones (SEZs), which run into thousands of acres. This is the second such letter it will be sending to the Centre, said Nirupam Sen, the state’s minister for commerce and industries.
“I do not agree that state governments should not have a role in land acquisition,” said Sen. When private players enter the fray for land acquisition “the government has no control of land use.”
Sen said land holdings in the state were very fragmented and would make private acquisition too cumbersome. Only 1% of the state’s land is fallow, and much of the usable land is cultivated for crops.
West Bengal’s previous letter had proposals, including lowering the minimum requirement for multi-product SEZs to 1,000 acres from the current 2,500 acres. It also wanted the Centre to consider asking developers to plough back a small percentage of their incentives to the community by depositing it in a corpus fund administered by the development commissioner of the project.
West Bengal’s land acquisition policies came under the scanner after violence broke out in Nandigram over a proposal to build a chemical hub there. Some 21 people were killed in the violence. The industrialization of the area, predominantly agrarian, would have involved the forced acquisition of land by the government at prices set by a district-level official such as a collector. Protests and violence which started as early as January, forced the government to back down from the plan and suggest that some of the proposed industrial units come up in nearby Haldia which is already a site for some chemical factories.
The eastern state has, since the start of the decade, been aggressively wooing investors after it lagged states such as Maharashtra and Karnataka in private investment. West Bengal’s forced acquisition of land, under the Land Acquisition Act, has been part of its effort to be seen as business-friendly.
The state government says it has attracted investment worth between Rs2,000 crore and Rs3,000 crore a year since 2001 and its pipeline of proposed projects now stands at more than Rs50,000 crore for the next six years.