West Bengal: Cabinet Gives Go-Ahead to Offload 20,000 Acres Govt Land on Freehold
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Image Courtesy: PTI
Kolkata: The West Bengal cabinet has recently cleared a controversial decision to offload more than 20,000 acres of land available with the different departments of the state government to prospective buyers following the highest bidder policy.
These lands were acquired by the state government before and after Independence and are considered to be prime government properties across districts of the state. The land belongs to the public works department, irrigation, land department, forests, education department and so on.
The decision to offload these huge swathes of land comes at a time when land sharks are on the prowl and have already illegally encroached government land, as per various media reports.
However, critics allege that the main reason behind the government taking such a “hasty” decision is its eagerness to earn revenue by offloading land. The state is under severe financial stress with non-planned expenditure, such as giving financial help to Durga Puja committees and clubs, taking a toll on the state exchequer.
Earlier, such land was offloaded as leasehold land with leases for 30 years to 99 years. Now, to augment its income (as freehold land commands more money), it has been decided to sell off these lands as freehold, said sources in the know.
After this decision, it is envisaged that the state government will not face any difficulty in selling any land belonging to the different departments of the state government.
After Independence, to set up infrastructure projects, land had been acquired by various state departments, Now, after the cabinet decision taken allegedly at the insistence of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who holds the land and land reforms department portfolio, it is feared that this unused land will be grabbed by land sharks “without any legal hassles”.
Notably, Banerjee rode to power in the state by leading an agitation against ‘land acquisition’ by the then Left Front government for developmental projects, dubbing the move as as an “attempts to offload the land to land sharks”.
Interestingly, after her third term in office, Banerjee is herself creating grounds to offload prime land not for industrial development but to land sharks and realty brokers, allege her critics in the Opposition.
As per sources, without any major industrial development, realty is the only industrial sector in the state that has seen growth after 2011.
What is worrying many is also that the cabinet’s decision would also entail offloading of leasehold land with tea gardens as freehold properties, which would be a boon for tea garden owners close to the ruling Trinamool Congress.
More importantly, this major policy decision might in future also affect the policy regarding offloading 2.5 lakh acres of vested land that still lies with the state government. Unlike during Left Front rule, when government’s vested land was given to landless agricultural workers in the form of patta, the land can now be offloaded to land sharks without legal hassles, putting the brakes on the work of distributing patta to landless families in the rural sector, say Banerjee’s critics.
Speaking with NewsClick about this decision, Shamik Lahiri, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) alleged: “The Mamata Banerjee-led government is on a land selling spree, spelling doom for the state as these one-time sales will mean that the government will lose the ability to use them for long-term plans. This loot needs to be stopped. The state exchequer is drying up and hence they are looting the state with this outright sale.”
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