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Intra-Departmental Land Transfer Puts Future of 1.5 Million Kolkata Slum Dwellers in Question

Transfer from the land revenue department to the urban development department; took place in December under executive decision from the Chief Secretary of WB
Kolkata Slum

Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Kolkata: The recent decision by the West Bengal cabinet to transfer the land rights of Kolkata's most urban slums situated on Thika tenancy from the land revenue department to the urban development department has raised concerns about the future of these lands. 

Critics fear that these lands, which occupy about 5000 acres in Kolkata and cost nearly one crore rupees each, will be made available for realty use, resulting in the eviction of 1.5 million slum dwellers. This transfer took place in December under an executive decision from the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, Harikrishna Dwibedhi, but no gazette notification was made public.

Mayor of Council of Kolkata Municipal Corporation and Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, Swapan Samddar, welcomed the decision, stating that it was done to make the registration process easier, but did not elaborate on who this "easiness" would benefit. Efforts to contact the Urban Development Minister, Firhaad Bobby Hakim, were unsuccessful.

According to Shibendu Ghosh, Secretary of the Kolkata District Committee of Paschimbanga Bustee Unnayan Samity (PBBUS), the government plans to hand over the Thika tenancy lands to corporations, which could lead to the eviction of slum dwellers. Already, a mall called Mani Square Mall has been built on Thika tenancy land, with more to follow. The eviction-oriented policy is made easier by the removal of the Thika Praja Appeal 3A clause from the act. Ghosh claims that the government claims to keep slum dwellers in flats during these developments, but in reality, slum dwellers are being evicted wherever these developments occur.

The shift in the Thika tenancy land to the urban development department means that this large land bank will now be available to promoters and land sharks. The government has decided to sell the land, which was previously on a leasehold basis, on a freehold basis. The huge amount of land available with Kolkata Improvement Trust and Kolkata Municipal Development Authority is soon to be auctioned, and the Thika tenancy land of Kolkata and Howrah will now be added to this list.

Interestingly, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's house is on Thika tenancy land, and two offices of the land revenue department, which used to handle Thika tenancy issues, have already been moved to Kolkata Corporation's office. The state government has not yet stated its objectives for the eviction of illegal encroachers on erstwhile cow shed lands, which are considered prime lands in Kolkata. The recent changes to the Thika Tenancy Act have already allowed for the construction of five-story high-rises in slum lands.

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