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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Bengal’s land & SEZ policy defies logic, says economist

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, January 08, 2013
First Published: 17:16 IST(8/1/2013) | Last Updated: 17:16 IST(8/1/2013)

The West Bengal government’s hands off land policy and leaving the entire aspect land transaction for industry to the market sounds quite irrational and counter- production for industry, feels the renowned economist and the retired professor of the University of California, Berkeley, Pranab Bardhan.

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At the same time, Bardhan observed that blind opposition to setting up of special economic zones (SEZ) is not a wise policy.

Speaking to the reporters at the sidelines of an interactive session on “Land and Equity: Some Under- studied issues” organised by the Indian Statistical Institution (ISI) here on Monday, Bardhan said that if the land transaction is left entirely on the market it would encourage the land mafias, which in turn would artificially jack up the land price and the project cost.

“If Tata Motors’ had to individually bargain with 13,000 landowners for their erstwhile project at Singur, the ultimate project cost would have been much higher,” Bardhan said.

However, Bardhan at the same time added that he is also not in favour of leaving the entire assignment of land transaction to the state.

“The problem in that case is rampant corruption among the politicians and bureaucrats. Alternatively, the task of land transaction should be left on a quasi-judicial body or a land commission set up in lines of the regulatory commissions in the telecommunications and power sector,” Bardhan said.

Commenting on the Mamata Banerjee-led government’s hardcore opposition stand against setting up of SEZs in the state, Bardhan said that he really doesn’t find much justification of opposing SEZs by an individual state government.

“Of course, the SEZs have both plus and minus points. But the tax sops that are offered to such units are given by the Union government and not by any individual state government. Hence, I do not understand the reason behind blind opposition to the SEZ by the West Bengal government,” Bardhan said.

Giving his observations on the ideal compensation to land-losers in case of setting up an industry, Bardhan said that the compensation should be into two parts.

“The first would be one-time payment as the price of land. The second phase should be paid at a later stage in the form of pension of annuity,” Bardhan said. Speaking on the occasion, he said that per household landholding in West Bengal has come down by over 50% currently from what it was in 1968.

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