Kolkata: The West Bengal cabinet on Monday approved the return of land acquired by a state agency in Kawakhali near Siliguri town to a section of original owners in a rerun of Singur, where the entire 997 acres of acquired land was returned.
In Kawakhali, a local development agency had in 2005 acquired 302 acres from some 1,700 landowners to build a township. The state government on Monday decided that it will return around 11 acres to 52 families who had opposed the acquisition.
After Mamata Banerjee took office as chief minister in 2011, she passed a bill to take back the land leased out to Tata Motors Ltd in Singur, and armed with a court order eventually redistributed it among its original owners.
The bill, the first by her government, was immediately challenged by the carmaker and after a protracted legal battle the Supreme Court passed a verdict in August last year upholding the state’s decision to return the land to its original owners.
Whereas the land at Singur was cultivable, the plot acquired for the proposed township in Kawakhali was barren, claimed Ashok Bhattacharya, a lawmaker from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, who led the initiative to build a new township.
But Partha Chatterjee, the state’s minister for parliamentary affairs, said the land acquired in Kawakhali was also cultivable and that it was seized by the erstwhile Left Front government in the same manner as in Singur.
Bhattacharya, who at the time of the disputed acquisition was the chairman of Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority, said the state had created a rehabilitation colony for poor landowners and had compensated them with special incentive packages for the displacement.
Such acts will only lead to more demands to return acquired land, Bhattacharya said, asking, “How much land can the government return for political gains?"
After coming to power in 2011, ending the Left’s 34-year rule, Banerjee made sure that the state stopped seizing private property even for infrastructure projects such as new townships. Her no-acquisition policy has hobbled even construction of roads in the state.
Alongside, the state cabinet also approved a plan to revive Durgapur Projects Ltd (DPL), a struggling state-owned power utility. The company, founded in 1961, will be turned into a wholly owned subsidiary of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Co., Chatterjee said. The decision to revive DPL will benefit at least 3,000 permanent and contractual workers whose jobs were at risk as the firm faced closure.