An expert committee set up by the West Bengal government to draft the state’s land use policy has submitted its recommendations to chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The draft suggests, among others, that land for industry be bought directly from owners. It also does not approve of special economic zones (SEZs) in the state.
Submitted in the third week of June, the 57-page draft policy is divided into two parts---land use and issues of farm policy when impinged on land, says Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, member of the committee. The land use part covers land acquisition, SEZ issues, modification of land records, land ceiling, security of homestead right and system of sharecropping (a type of land lease in which part of the harvest is paid to the landowner as rent), protection of the land rights of tribals and compensation. The farm policy part highlights rainwater harvesting, use of pesticides and contract farming.
In context of land acquisition, the draft recommends that unlike Singur, where the earlier government had acquired nearly 405 hectares (ha) for Tata’s car factory, the state should have no role in procuring land for industrial projects. But do not such policies drive industrialists away from the state? “We have about 20 per cent land unfit for agriculture. We have identified five districts---Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia---where considerable land is available to set up industries. It is the government’s responsibility to create infrastructure for the purpose,” says Bandapadhyay.
The draft policy suggests use of e-governance for updating land records so that whenever a land is sold it is immediately reflected on the land map. There are also suggestions for the state government to give about 0.14 ha each to 10 lakh landless families within the next five years. The draft policy also emphasises on the importance of a good land use map and land inventory. The recommendations include protection of interests of bargadars (share croppers) and tribals during any land transaction. “As per the Forest Rights Act of 2006, land has to be given back to tribals if taken illegally and forcibly. We have also kept open the option of community forest management if same tribal dominates an area,” says Bandapadhyay.
On farming part, the draft suggests large-scale rain water harvesting, gradual reduction on the use of pesticides, ban on contract farming, regulation of brick kilns so that the top soil is minimally affected and stopping further incursion to Sundarbans. “There is no question of anyone being evicted from Sundarbans. That is an absurd idea,” says Bandapadhyay rubbishing the theory of mass displacement from Sundarbans that has been aired from certain quarters.
Bikram Sarkar, a land expert and former member of Parliament of Trinamool Congress, says, “Though I agree to certain parts of the policy but the theory of industries requiring to buy hundred per cent of land is unacceptable.” He suggests that a government authority should look after the process. “The Land Acquisition Act has been there for over hundred years and any sweeping change should be discussed and debated at all levels before being accepted.”
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