Kolkata: The Election Commission has spiked the West Bengal government’s proposal to start acquisition of farmland in four districts—Burdwan, West Midnapore, Purulia and Howrah—ahead of the general election.
The state government is looking to acquire close to 17,000 acres in these four districts for industrial projects that it plans to set up, and had sought the commission’s permission to issue the preliminary notification for starting the process of acquisition. Such notifications are issued under Section 4(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Companies that have proposed to invest in West Bengal were getting impatient, Subrata Gupta, managing director of West Bengal Industrial Development Corp., or WBIDC, had told the commission, explaining the state government’s urgency to start acquisition of land ahead of elections.
The decision to acquire land in these districts was taken long ago by the state cabinet and the allotment of land had been announced to the investors and the public as well, he added.
But the commission said the proposed land acquisition couldn’t start until after the general election in view of the model code of conduct, that all political parties and governments are expected to abide by ahead of election.
"Cabinet decisions are taken in closed door meetings. But once notifications are issued, people come to know about the projects (for which land is to be acquired) and how they will benefit from them. We cannot allow section 4 notifications to be issued before the election," N.K. Sahana, joint chief electoral officer of West Bengal told Mint.
WBIDC’s Gupta said the corporation will continue to acquire land for which notifications have already been issued.
"We wouldn’t waste time because of the elections."
The West Bengal government has been struggling against local resistance to acquire farmland for industrial projects. Protests by farmers against land seizure have forced the state government to abandon several projects such as the proposed chemical hub in Nandigram and DLF Ltd’s 4,840-acre township in Dankuni near Kolkata.
Following the ruling Left Front’s setback in panchayat elections in West Bangal last year, the state government had decided to go slow with land acquisition in 2008, admitted Abdur Rezzak Mollah, West Bengal’s minister for land and land reforms. But he declined to comment on why the state government was trying to start land acquisition ahead of the general elections.
"The fresh drive to acquire land is in line with the Left Front’s decision to use industrialization and employment generation as key poll planks for the Lok Sabha elections. The decision (by the Left Front) was taken after Tata Motors (Ltd) announced its decision to move its (small car) plant from Singur," said an official of the land and land reforms department, who did not want to be named because the minister of his department had refused to answer the same question.
In several public meetings in the run-up to the general election, West Bengal’s chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen have said that the state government wouldn’t give up its drive for employment generation through industrialization despite strong resistance from the Trinamool Congress, the main opposition party in West Bengal.