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In Singur rerun, Mamata govt to return land to owners in north Bengal

Six years after the Mamata Banerjee government’s landmark decision to return land to landowners in Singur, the administration is replicating it near Siliguri in north Bengal.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2017 19:55 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Kolkata/Siliguri
Land ownership,Mamata Banerjee,Bengal government
The decision by Mamata Banerjee’s government will benefit 52 families Kawakhali near Siliguri in north Bengal.(HT PHOTO)

In a rerun of the decision to return land acquired from unwilling farmers in Singur, the Mamata Banerjee administration on Monday decided to return 11 acres of land to 52 families in Kawakhali near Siliguri, reversing a decision by the Left Front government.

This is the second instance in Bengal that land acquired for industry/infrastructure will be returned by the government to original landowners.

“Land of more than 11 acres will be returned to the families. The decision was taken in a cabinet meeting today. The land was taken away from them during the Left rule,” said education minister and Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee on Monday.

The government did not set a time frame to complete the exercise, but returning land to original owners can be a lengthy process.

The land was acquired in 2005 by Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA). A total of 302 acres of land were acquired by SJDA that was controlled by the Left. The land parcel was spread over villages in Matigara block of Darjeeling district and Rajganj block of Jalpaiguri district.

Out of the total land, the ‘unwilling’ families between themselves held more than 11 acres. The land was used for farming, but roads were built after it was acquired. Of the 52 families, nine are from Jalpaiguri and 43 are from Darjeeling district. Of the 52 owners, four died over the past few years.

“Finally, we got justice. It would have been better had the victory came before four land owners passed away,” said Manimohan Biswas, former president of Tiknikata Kawakhali Land Owners’ Welfare Association. He owns 2.14 acres of land.

After Mamata Banerjee came to power, the agitators met Trinamool leaders such as minister Gautam Deb, Saurav Chakraborty and Rudranath Bhattacharya (both had served as SJDA chairman) to demand return of the land. The agitators were assured that their land would be returned to them.

However, it was following land owners’ meeting with chief minister Mamata Banerjee during her visit to north Bengal on March 29 this year that the initiative to return land was expedited.

After the land was acquired, it was put to different use. Parts of the land were given to private healthcare units, educational institutions and the CRPF. SJDA is also supposed to build a smart city on 84 acres.

In 2016, the Supreme Court quashed the West Bengal government’s acquisition of 997 acres of agricultural land for Tata Motors in Singur in Hoogly district and ordered its return to over 9000 landowners. It was the Left Front government which acquired the land.

The land acquisition for Tata Motors to manufacture the Nano small car had sparked off a major controversy and fanned dissatisfaction against the ruling Left Front which the Trinamool Congress leveraged to come to power.

In its first cabinet meeting on May 20, 2011, the Mamata Banerjee government decided to return the Singur land to landowners. The exercise was finally completed last year.

First Published: Nov 27, 2017 19:55 IST