Land acquisition issues stall industrial parks in West Bengal

Land acquisition issues stall industrial parks in West Bengal

Kolkata: A furore over forced land acquisition, which has halted several major industrial projects in West Bengal, has also slowed six of the 13 industrial parks, involving small and medium enterprises, proposed by the state in the past five years.

Just three of the stalled parks were supposed to generate 20,000 jobs in a state that is trying to revive traditional industries and enterprise. It is unclear how many jobs in all were to be created through the parks.

So far, seven parks involving about 900 acres are operational. The remaining, spread over more than 4,000 acres, are facing problems of land availability, land pricing and other issues, though just one of the parks—an iron and steel park spread over 2,500 acres planned in Guptamoni, 150km from Kolkata—accounts for bulk of the land being sought.

For instance, a rubber park proposed to be set up at Sankrail, 50km south-west of Kolkata, needed only 170 acres to be up and running. But, three years after it began scouting for land, the company created for the project, South Asia Rubber and Polymers Park Ltd, has been able to acquire only 70 acres of land.

“There has been some resistance to land acquisition," admits the company’s spokesman. Meanwhile, he estimates that land prices in the area have more than doubled in these three years. Cost escalation and delays in land acquisition have resulted in about 5% of the investors pulling out of the project.

The project, which was expected to be functional by the end of 2007, will have to wait another two years before it is in place, says the official. The investments in the project were expected to be about Rs500 crore.

Similarly, a foundry park which was kicked-off with much fanfare a year-and-a-half ago at Howrah, south-west of Kolkata, has run into land acquisition problems. Only 300 acres of the 924 acres required for the park have been acquired, and even they have not contiguous.

“This is a problem all around," says a senior official of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corp., who didn’t want to be named. “Land is not available or it is too high priced."

In Howrah, a hosiery park proposed over 100 acres has run into land availability problems. Another Howrah project, a 150-acre Apparel Export Park also did not make it beyond the drawing board. A 400-acre biotech park, proposed in Kharagpur, 125km from Kolkata, is also being reworked as it infringed on tribal land.

Land availability in the state should not have been an issue given the barren nature of the land. But the current mood, in the wake of the clashes between farmers and the government at Singur and Nandigram, where farmland was being acquired forcibly for industrial and infrastructure projects, which led to violence and protests, has stalled progress all over.

“This land issue could not have come at a more inappropriate time," says D. Sengupta, managing director, ICICI-West Bengal Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd.

He points out that the disputes erupted at a time when the local entrepreneurs, who had fled the state, were returning and looking to reinvest in West Bengal. “The land (cost) has gone up by about three times in many of the places we are scouting for land," says Sengupta, who works with the West Bengal government to look for land and help establish various projects proposed in the state.

“They tell me things will change after May (after the panchayat elections in the state)," says Sengupta.