The Times Of India, Feb 20 2014, Kolkata: For the next couple of months from now, the Mamata Banerjee government will not acquire any land from farmers even if it is required for government projects. The message has already reached government departments after the chief minister’s press meet with Anna Hazare in New Delhi on Wednesday. The Trinamool chief will champion the cause of farmers as she did earlier. All infrastructure projects in Bengal will therefore, have to wait till the Lok Sabha polls are over.
Mamata Banerjee doesn’t want any land controversy before the elections. State departments have been asked not to place any proposals for land acquisition for the time being. This even after the government has acquired land for several irrigation projects and those for Aila victims after the Trinamool chief came to power.
In a bid to deal with questions on why the state government will not acquire land for government projects when the Centre’s Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 is in place, it says that there is no need for land acquisition in the next couple of months. The central Act has given exemption to as many as 11 other central Acts under which land can be acquired for government projects. After all, acquisition falls under the Concurrent List while land and development come under the State List.
“No land acquisition proposal will be placed in the cabinet now till the procedures of the new land acquisition act are finalized and declared,” a state official said. The central Act however, doesn’t clarify whether the other land acquisition acts in Bengal empower the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation or the West Bengal Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation to acquire land.
The new central Act that applies to land acquisition, compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement, will work on any appropriate government, which needs to acquire land for its own use, hold and control, including the public sector undertakings and for public purpose. It will apply to infrastructure projects related to sports, tourism, healthcare, transportation, including projects for industrial corridors, mining activities, agro processing, warehouse and cold storage facilities, marketing infrastructure for agriculture and allied activities like dairy that are owned or set up by the government or by the farmers’ cooperative or by an institution that has been set up under a statute. The Act will also apply to public-private-partnership (PPP) projects, where the ownership of the land continues to vest with the government.
The Mamata Banerjee government announced a hands-off policy on land acquisition even before the promulgation of the Act. But, for that investors need to assure by way of an affidavit that they won’t purchase land forcibly from farmers. Under this rule, the government also reserves the right to cancel the project if it comes to know that land has been forcibly taken by the investor. Central public sector unit NTPC has to bend its rules and buy land on its own in Bengal when other state governments are acquiring land for the power utility.