'New land act neither pro-people nor pro-industry'

Kolkata, Oct 28 : Asserting that there were many unresolved issues concerning the Land Acquisition Act, a West Bengal minister Monday said the state government does not subscribe to the new legislation, slated to be notified early next year.

"The Trinamool Congress government does not subscribe to the new act. There are many issues which needed to be discussed, but they have been left unresolved. The act says that consent of 80 percent of land-losers would be required, but we want it to be 100 percent," West Bengal Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee said.

Speaking at the Merchants' Chamber of Commerce and Industry meeting on the new legislation, Chatterjee said the new act was "neither pro-people nor pro-industry".

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2013, passed by parliament during its monsoon session, received the president's assent last month.

The act would be notified, after finalisation, either Jan 1 or April 1, 2014.

Iterating the Mamata Banerjee government's hands-off policy on land acquisition, Chatterjee also hoped that unwilling farmers who had to relinquish their lands for an industrial project in Hooghly's Singur, would get these back.

"The matter is now sub judice, but we hope the court will hear the voice of the poor," said Chatterjee, who blamed the erstwhile Left Front government of "wrongly identifying the land".

Hoping for an out-of-court settlement of the issue, social activist Medha Patkar urged Tata Motors to return the land to the farmers.

"I sincerely hope the parties resolve the issue out of the court, and the land is given back to the farmers, whose condition is pitiable. The Tatas have a lot of land elsewhere and it is expected from them that they will do such an act," Patkar said.

The erstwhile Left Front government acquired lands from the farmers of Singur in 2006 for the Nano small car plant of automobile giants Tata Motors.

However, the Trinamool led a strident and often violent peasants' movement, demanding the return of 400 acres which, the party alleged, was forcibly taken from farmers. The intense protests forced the automakers to shift the factory to Sanand in Gujarat.

The anti-land acquisition protest then spread to Nandigram in East Midnapore district, where the then Left Front government wanted to set up a chemical hub.

But the Left Front was forced to abort the move following the protests, which saw the Trinamool's popularity soar.

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress subsequently came to power in the state in 2011, ending the Left Front's 34-year uninterrupted rule.

The first decision of the Banerjee cabinet was to return 400 acres of acquired lands in Singur to the peasants. The government passed the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, to facilitate the return of the lands, but the Calcutta High Court struck down the legislation as unconstitutional.

The dispute is now before the Supreme Court.

--IANS (Posted on 28-10-2013)

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