Forcible acquisition of land for setting up of township at Rajarhat alleged

Three years after Nandigram and two years after Singur, the theatre of political combat over land in West Bengal has shifted to Rajarhat on the northeastern fringe of Kolkata, where the Trinamool Congress braces itself for a fresh movement against what it alleges is forcible and dubious acquisition of land for the township coming up in the area. And the Left Front Government faces the prospect of yet another attempt to torpedo its development plans.

At a protest rally close to the office at Salt Lake of the State's Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO), which is responsible for the setting up of the township at Rajarhat, the Trinamool Congress leadership on Thursday made clear its intent to take forward its agitation. It even demanded an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the “land scam” that it alleges the project is enmeshed in.

The party's battle-cry is reminiscent of the one it raised at Singur: return of a portion of the land allegedly handed over to authorities under duress. The campaign in Nandigram also fed on rumours that land there was in the process of being grabbed.

Now the battleground has changed; not the agenda of the Trinamool which has upped the ante given that the critical Assembly polls are due in just about six months.

Combative mode

Projecting itself as a party that is on the side of the land-losers in any debate over acquisition – whether in Nandigram or Singur — can yield substantial dividends in an election, recent history has shown. With this in mind the Trinamool is clearly in combative mode.

After all, the land acquisition process at Rajarhat began more than a decade ago. The protests are being heard only recently.

The Trinamool has been demanding that 400 acres of land allegedly forcibly acquired (out of 997.11 acres) for the then proposed Tata Motors small car project at Singur be handed back to the owners, has now sought the return of ten per cent of land acquired and developed for the Rajarhat township. Its chief Mamata Banerjee has accused the authorities of “shady land deals” and equated the goings-on there with the scam in Mumbai's Adarsh Housing Society.

If anything the scuttling by the Trinamool of the proposed projects both at Nandigram and Singur has only strengthened the resolve of Left Front government to shrug off their legacies and go ahead with its plans for the Rajarhat township where commercial complexes, housing projects and IT centres are among the facilities coming up.

Offer dismissed

Claiming to be speaking from a position of authority, Housing Minister Gautam Deb, who is also HIDCO chairman, challenged Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee to allow the setting up of a Tata Motors unit at Singur in return for not 10 but 11 per cent of the land at Rajarhat which she is demanding be returned. The latter has dismissed the offer, saying that she is not compelled to respond to offers made by leaders of such (read low) standing.

Counter-attack

Aware that the political price to be paid for any land acquisition process – particular in the face of charges by the Opposition of forcible grab – can be heavy, HIDCO has not only gone on the counter-attack rubbishing the Trinamool accusation that a portion of the land for the Rajarhat township had been acquired through coercion; it has gone further.

It has come up with an impressive eight-point rehabilitation package for the land-losers comparable only to the one announced by the State Government for those who had given away their plots at Singur.

And all this when Ms Banerjee, as Railway Minister, keeps asserting that land will not be forcibly acquired for railway projects amid questions being asked in Left circles why she should not return 10 per cent of the 3,500 acres acquired by the Railways if her demand for the return of the same percentage of land developed for the Rajarhat township is to merit any serious thought.

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