Rajarhat: When the Government Loots

August 1, 2012

by Pranab De

(A publication of Nagarik Mancha, first published in January 2011. Translated from Bengali by Debarshi Das)

Click here to read the original Bengali booklet

As the West Bengal Government was getting into a deeper mess over land acquisition at Singur, and was receiving flak from around the world over the mass killing at Nandigram – in Rajarhat however an opposite situation had prevailed. The acquired land in Rajarhat far exceeds the size of acquisition at Singur-Nandigram, yet the work went on without a hitch. It was so smooth that the Housing Minister Gautam Deb made a snide remark for the benefit of his own party’s Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, ‘We did not have to resort to bullets or lathicharge for taking land at Rajarhat.’ Yes, it was indeed effortless. But, now courtesy the heated exchanges between the Trinamul leader [Mamata Banerjee] and the Housing Minister the Rajarhat issue has suddenly grabbed our attention. Gautambabu has taken the responsibility of arguing on behalf of Rajarhat and HIDCO (West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited). The debates are going on in an interesting manner. Gautambabu has video recorded Mamata Banerjee’s speech, which he is refuting point-wise in press conferences. Recently he has brought out a booklet containing information on the Rajarhat New Town Project, the booklet has been passed on to the journalists and Mamata Banerjee (this happened on 14th December, 2010, the name of the booklet ‘Jyoti Basu Nagar – Some Information’). It is not yet clear how much succour will the common people of Rajarhat find in the acrimony between the Government and the Opposition. It is clear however that the Government is in an uncomfortable position.

Rajarhat’s Past:

The honourable Minister has not divulged all information on the Rajarhat New Town Project in the said booklet. His only intention was to expose the participation of the Opposition parties at different point of time, at different degrees in the New Town Project. As if by proving the participation of the Opposition all the immoral evictions and environment destruction that had gone on would find legitimacy. He has tried to justify the New Town Project by quoting from the survey report of a professional organisation. But he has not made the entire survey report public. The report has quoted the census reports of 1981 and 1991 and described the 3075 hectares of area as ‘rural in nature’. It has been reported that the main occupation of the people is agriculture, only 1% of them have 3 acres of land or more, whereas 87% of the Project land is unirrigated land etc. There is no reference to the vast wetlands of Rajarhat in the Professional Report.

In the words of the Deputy Director, West Bengal Fishery Department, Mrs. Madhumita Mukherjee, “Rajarhat is in the east of Kolkata. The uniqueness of Rajarhat is in its geographical features, diversity, variation in the nature of wetland. Fallow riverbed, mud areas, saline wetland, lowland with dirty water, marshes, ponds, roadside low land, large water bodies, canal, bypass canal: one finds all the variations in Rajarhat. Satellite images show that 80% of the area from 22º30’ N to 22 º40’ N and 88 º25’E to 88 º30’E is wetland. This is where Rajarhat is. At present the depth of water in different waterbodies here is about 2 to 6 feet. They are full of food for humans and other animals as well as herbs. There are 50 different species of fish one finds at Rajarhat. There are some big fisheries owned by people like Krishnapada Mandal, Bhudhar Majhi, Atul Barui, Shibu Naskar and other fisherfolk. Besides there are other small privately owned waterbodies.” (“Bipanno Poribesh” [Endangered Environment], 2000, Nagarik Mancha)

Neglected Report of the Environment Department

In 1998 the Environment Department of the West Bengal Government published the ‘State of Environment Report’. This report was compiled with the help of eminent researchers, scientists, in collaborations with the departments of many universities and the state and central government, at the initiative of the state government. The report reiterated that Rajarhat is part of the East Kolkata Wetland region, and that before building a satellite township a detailed environmental survey needs to be conducted. According to the Government the East Kolkata Wetland and the agricultural land by the canal are ‘No Development Zone’. The decision to build a new urban area in Rajarhat in the North-East of Kolkata (also a leather-complex in East Kolkata) is an example of contradiction. In fact, the report opined against building a satellite township at Rajarhat. It said:

Recent development proposal for setting up a satellite township at Rajarhat (by Housing Board), Central leather complex at Karaidanga and the Sonarpur Satellite Township, all within the designated wetland of East Calcutta call for critical appraisal and year round impact assessment study. These are some of the examples of contingent responses made to a very complex problem of land conversion for urbanization and consequent degradation of environment..

It may be mentioned that east Calcutta has long been acknowledged as an ecologically fragile area providing immense service to the city. The government has recognized that East Calcutta Wetlands and the canal side agricultural fields should be considered as “No Development Zone”.

It has also decided to set up a Leather Complex at the heartland of East Calcutta and a new township at Rajarhat in north east Calcutta. These are examples of contradictions. The point to note is that habitat improvement programme has to be made eco-friendly. This is critically required in tracts with fragile eco-systems like the coastal zone, the Sundarbans, Darjiling hills as also the wetlands of East Calcutta

Why is this report of the state government neglected in Gautambabu’s booklet?

Although destruction of wetland is illegal, the wetland referred to in the report cannot be traced today. The Minister may show the clearance of the environment department, to the common man this is sheer fraud.

Desolate Rajarhat

In 1995-96 the New Township Project got underway at Rajarhat. From the very beginning the agriculture-dependent people have registered their spontaneous protest against land acquisition. ‘Rajarhat Jami Bnachao Committee’ [Rajarhat save land committee] and other handful organizations were set up to protect land. But these organizations did not get the support of any political party. The area was under the unquestioned domination of the ruling party. If the people who had put up resistance in the face of terror, atrocities and threats could receive the minimum support of the civil society or political parties, the subsequent history could have been different. The shrunken Opposition parties could not manage to protest on the Rajarhat issue due to: one, going against the golden dreams of the middle class, and, two, the fear of being labeled as anti-development. The Opposition may have emerged from some of its doubts after the people of Singur-Nandigram have shown the way. Even then till 2009 the Opposition has not raised the Rajarhat issue openly. The spark came from the local people who lived by the New Town. After the ‘Vedic Village’ was consigned to flames of people’s anger, atrocities that had gone on in that area became known.

The Behind-the-Scene Story of Land Acquisition – Experience of Those Affected

When the Rajarhat New Township Project got approved in early nineties land sharks started their mafia raj in Rajarhat, New Township Project and the surrounding regions. Promoters and land agents made the lives of common people extremely difficult through their speculative activities. Forced land acquisition, farmer eviction, loot, dacoity and other anti-social activities of the Rajarhat-Bhangore region rose. Different sorts of land speculation were going on. In the area surrounding New Township Project land was being bought at cheap rate or simply captured by force, to be sold at a premium. In many cases, to get high land compensation rate from the Government land sharks pounced upon the area. At the same time the business of hotels and resorts was booming. It would be wrong to think that the Government did not know of the land speculation business. The experience of the common people says that people close to the Government and ruling party were involved in the business. We are presenting a few such experiences obtained from different sources.

Story 1

Farm lands were destroyed unopposed by the CPM government. They dumped tones of soil on paddy plants ready to be harvested. Or they would run bulldozers over yellow mustard plants. Rabin Mandal of the CPM would command the RAF forces, along with a gang of thugs wearing red bandana, carrying glittering firearms, and they would assault the local people in the Hitler-style. Seven peasants including Ranjit Naskar, Pulak Chatterjee, Prahlad were arrested. The court case is still going on. The males of the households had to flee. From June 5 to June 8, 2001 massive movement was taking place in Ghuni mouza. Wives of the peasants lied down on the land to stop the work [of development]. After peasants of other mouzas watched these pictures on TV they started organizing in their areas. On June 11 2001 the Housing Minister Gautam Deb cracked down. He bought over the MLA Tanmay Mandal. Leaders of Trinamul Congress or the BJP MPs did utter a single word against this attack by the CPM.

(Rajarhat Jami Dakatir Itihas – Rajarhat Krishi Jami Adhigrahan o Rashtriya Santras Birodhi Committe)

Story 2

In 1993, two years prior to the Rajarhat land acquisition notification, in the panchayat elections, CPM fielded the infamous history sheeter of the Mahishbathan, Number 2 Thakdnari locality, Ruidas Mandal alias Ruhis alias Luis in booth no. 139. There was an entrenched interest behind this move. Luis alias Ruhis, who was a Congress-supported goonda earlier, had established his fiefdom involving murder, dacoity etc. in the Mahishbathan, Mahishgoth and other surrounding areas. If he gets elected in the panchayat it would be easy to spread terror in the region in order acquire land for the Rajarhat township. With this calculation in mind the CPM leadership of Rajarhat perpetrated atrocities during elections, and eventually flouted every rule of the electoral manual to make Luis the winner by a single vote, whereas he had actually lost by two votes.

After the election of Luis in the panchayat, troubled times started for the local people. Murder and atrocities became commonplace. With the patronage of the CPM leadership and local police and administration, forced land acquisition from the poor agricultural people started. The CPM leaders acquired hundreds of bighas of land for themselves and their associates by forcing signatures out of terrorized peasants at gun point. In place of names of registered share croppers, the leaders’ cronies’ names were getting registered. They got ample cooperation from the local panchayat and land and revenue department on this.

The reign of terror of CPM and its thug brigade continued. Goondas of the surrounding area also shifted their allegiance to this mafia gang. The infamous thugs of the Shibkali Mandir area of Keshtopur joined their hands and started looting land at gun point. Besides, mercenaries from Howrah, Asansol, North and South 24 Parganas also started collecting. Many people were forced to hand over the power of attorney to the local leaders of the CPM.

Those who were reluctant to surrender land were subject to torture of different kinds. Many fled to escape beating up or worse. Those who showed the courage to report to the police would be mercilessly killed. Houses of those who fled were broken down and the deep holes were dug in the ground where the house stood so that no house could be built on the land. In many cases family feuds were used to acquire land. Even the party members or supporters were not spared. As the date of official land acquisition at Rajarhat approached the number of murders and atrocities also multiplied. In Mahishgoth and Thakdnari alone more than 50 people were killed before and after the acquisition. Gradually the thug gang of CPM grabbed all the land of Rajarhat. We publish the names of those who were killed by the CPM and the Government terror below. This list is incomplete because many more are missing. Their relatives have left the area, there is no certainty if they will ever return. Corpses were buried, which could not be traced due to lack of cooperation from the police. Yet, we are certain that more than 50 people were brutally killed.

The names we know,

1.Sadhu Sardar 2. Arabinda Mandal 3. Paban Mandal 4. Probodh Sardar 5. Kubir Mandal 6. Ganesh Mandal 7. Arun Mandal 8. Kamal Patra 9. Kabu Mandal 10. Swapan Mandal 11. Tanu Ney 12. Shyamal Naskar 13. Basudeb Naskar – all of them are residents of Mahishgoth, Thakdnari and surrounding areas.
(Rajarhat township – cries of despair behind a facade of development, Sanhati.com, http://sanhati.com/excerpted/945/)

Story 3

On a summer morning in the year 2008 Asraf Molla woke up to find that the irrigation department pump is no longer in operation. The pump is the sole source for water of his one and half bigha of land. On inquiry he came to know that all four pumps of the Baliguri mouza are dysfunctional. That was the time of paddy supplantation. They demonstrated at the irrigation department, but to no effect. Residents of Baliguri village of Patharghata mouza say, “We are not ready to quit land, that’s why irrigation water has been stopped [to force us]. We had to pay a dear price for our opposition.” With Asraf, residents of Chhapna, Jatragachhi, Kadampur mouza tried to resist land acquisition. They approached leaders of all political parties, CPM, Congress, Trinamul, BJP. “Nobody listened to our appeal. Instead the administration has forced us to sell with their [political parties’] support,” says Asraf Molla. He has two sons and finally he took the decision to sell the land to HIDCO for a little more than 2.6 lakhs of rupees. He cannot run his family without growing crops. But there are many people like Raju Molla of Baliguri, Nitish Mandal of Patharghata, Lakkhiratan Ray of Bajetaraf who live in shanty houses behind multi-storied buildings and who have refused to accept compensation from HIDCO (The Telegraph, September 7, 2009).

Story 4

Prahlad Mandal of Patharghata mouza had 3.5 bigha of land. HIDCO offered him a rate of 13 thousand rupees per katha compensation. But Mandal was not ready to sell. “It was very fertile land. There was no question of selling land. They (CPM goondas) warned me of dire consequences. I was arrested on false charges. In April 2004 I had to undergo two weeks of incarceration. When I refused to accept compensation, the Government deposited the sum in the court. My land was acquired even when the case was going on. They deposited sand on the land so that it turns unfit for cultivation.” At present Mandal gives private tuitions to run his family.

When the 29 kathas of the 2 bigha land that Prashanta Naskar owned at Shikarpur village which borders the Vedic Village Resort were grabbed by the resort promoters all he could do was to watch in silence. “The land was full of crop to be harvested. At that point of time they unloaded truckload of soil on it, they were accompanied by armed goondas. They have encircled the land. The police and panchayat did not pay attention to my complaints. The promoters sent goondas to my house to silence me. We did not get any compensation.” (OPEN magazine, September 12, 2009)

These are stories of Upen’s of the present age [Upen is the name of the protagonist in a well known Tagore poem whose land the zamindar grabbed]. This is the blood and sweat soaked saga of land acquisition of Rajarhat. This is how the modern city of palaces is being constructed.

Government Support in Land Grab

It is not possible in any country to perpetrate such crimes over such a wide region for so many years. Rajarhat is no exception. Evidences are coming to the light that the land mafia was spreading their influence in Rajarhat courtesy the patronage of the Government and Housing Department. On June 19, 1997, the additional district commissioner, cum land and land reform officer of the district, writes a letter to the joint secretary of the state Housing Department,

I would like to bring to your notice that the West Bengal Housing Board has sponsored the names, of eleven companies for mutation of the RORs in their favour by the BLLRO, Rajarhat. The total quantum of land is about 94.0 acres in the mouzas of Thakdari, Mahisgot, Mahisbathan. Initially the companies could not be served notice at their recorded address, as such offices do not to exist. Therefore, it was seen that all the companies have appointed one Sri Anil Maheswari to deal with all the matters relating to mutation/conversion…These companies ostensibly formed for trade/manufacture of different products like film, PVC pipe etc. do not exist on the ground. Nor are they found in possession. The concerned plots are to be in cultivating possession of RS recorded raiyats as seen by the Revenue Officer. In such a situation, mutation cannot be allowed in favour of these companies which appear prima-facie fictitious…

The information which come to the light from the above Government report are, 1. The Housing Board/Department of the West Bengal Government had recommended names of certain individuals/companies for official mutation which did not exist. 2. These companies had acquired large portion of land in the New Town Project area. 3. There were some people who pushed for the mutation of the land who were close to the ruling party. 4. Concerned people/companies did not have the possession of land, the farmers were in possession. In other words, without actually buying the land from owners/peasants there was an attempt to mutate the land in their favour on the basis of forged papers.

Are the experiences of Asraf Molla or Prahlad Mandal be discarded as fiction? The Government documents are testifying in their favour. Who knows what new skeletons would tumble out if an investigation is carried out.

The Vedic Village Incident

There is hardly any doubt that the murder, arson, fights at Vedic Village near New Town which were sparked off by a scuffle surrounding a football match were the outburst of anger of the people against the atrocities of the land mafia. Links between the owners of the resort, the Modi-Shrofs, with the land mafia Gaffar Molla have been exposed. The resort owners started many land business either in their own name or in false names. There was one company named ‘Sanjivani’ which owned ceiling surplus land amounting to 50 acres, this land was handed over to the Government under the West Bengal Land Reform Act. The owners did not get a favourable decision from the high court, tribunal or any other body. When the case was going on in Division Bench of the High Court, at the hearing stage of the appeal, the company withdrew the case at that time (November, 2004). After six months, in May 2005, the Land and Land Reform Department of the Government of West Bengal leased out 44 acres of land of Rajarhat to three companies at throwaway prices for 99 years.

Another three companies were given permission to keep 1500 acres of marked land under their possession, in the pretext of building IT Township. The companies had not bought the permitted land, yet they were given permission under the article 14Y of the Land Reform Act. Willingness of the owners of the land was not even considered. The lands then were captured with the help of the thuggery of Gaffar Molla’s. In this rush for land grab there was no difference between the parties. Such incidents of violating the law of the land in order to permit land acquisition is not an accident. These are carefully taken decisions of the Government for township planning. The Government took the responsibility to provide luxury to the rich by evicting thousands of poor.

People of Rajarhat Strangled by the Law of the Land

Does the Government follow the law, or does the law follow the version of the Government? Under the Left Front Government in West Bengal this is a constant paradox. People on the street think that the Government would obey the law. But the law that the Government cites while taking land cannot be found in the legal books. In 1996 before land was acquired in Rajarhat all land transactions in the mouzas adjoining New Town Project area were declared illegal. Under which law did the Government did this? It did something more dangerous. In the land acquisition laws the land owners were given a minimum right to object. The Jyoti Basu ministry of the day robbed that right.

The Calculation of Compensation

What resulted as a consequence of all this is peasants or land owners did have the chance to register their opposition to the acquisition. Land price was fixed at a level below the market rate which deprived them of their due compensation. According to the land acquisition act, under the article no. 4, compensation is determined by the price of land prevailing on the day of announcement of notification. The compensation rate is 30% above the market price. If data is not available in the land registration office, track of the land price is kept by taking the average market price of recent year and adding-subtracting 5% over the price (on account of appreciation/depreciation). Because transaction of Government land was banned, data for the years after 1996 price could not be obtained. In 1996-97 the Housing Board directly purchased 241 acres directly from the farmers. A 5% was added to this price and that was how compensation was announced. But the high rate of urbanization, and fast rise of land price surely demanded a much much higher margin than a meager 5%. Thus along with losing the land the farmers were also harmed economically. “In the beginning of the acquisition process farmers of Mahishgoth and Thakdnari refused to receive the notice. Firstly, the compensation rate of 5000 rupees to 6000 rupees per katha was much less than the registered price of land of the Government. At that time the Government-determined market rate was 40000 to 50000 per katha.” (Rajarhat township – cries of despair behind a facade of development, Sanhati.com, http://sanhati.com/excerpted/945/)

We should know the data on the rate of compensation, printed on the booklet which the honourable Minister Gautam Deb has brought out in December 14, 2010. Whether it was intentional or not, it’s not clear, but the booklet is a prime example of hoodwinking people. Anticipating trouble once the data is published, the officers have added a note: “To avoid wrong interpretation by the interested quarters, the year-wise value and other details of this mouza [Mahishbathan] should not be published.” It’s revealed that the Housing Board had purchased land in 1997 at the rate of 6050 rupees per katha. The entire land is ‘sali’ or farm land. On the 5% rule in 1998 the market rate was fixed at 6352.50 rupees per katha. We also find in 1998-99 the Board sold the land at the rate 60728 rupees per katha. Which is the market price then, 6000 or 60000? In 2004 land was sold at the rate of more than 2 lakhs rupees per katha. If this price is reduced at 5% per year rate the price in 1998 turns out to be 1.49 lakh. Which price is the correct one?

One gets the price determination calculation in the mouzas of Hatiyara, Jatragachhi, Thakdnari, Rekjeyani, Chakpnachuriya, Taruliya, Patharghata in the Minister’s booklet. In these mouzas price of a more distant past year, 1990, has been taken and by doing some strange calculations each year the price has been reduced at the rate of 25%-33%. As a result the compensation rate has fallen even more. We quote the land price determination note of Hatiyara mouza:

hatiyara1.jpg

Deduction as per ruling of Supreme Court in

Adinarayan Shetty case AIR 1959 SC 429
Koushalaya Devi Bogra case AIR 1984 SC 832 and other cases.

It has not been mentioned if the prices which have been taken for the past years have been obtained from the land registration office or are presumed prices. If these are prices from Government documents, it has to be mentioned that in 1995 land price was 10000 rupees a katha. That had been reduced to 6700 rupees. On this basis the price in 1999 is 8123 rupees which is less than even the 1995 price.

Two Supreme Court cases have been cited which have no clear link with the Rajarhat compensation. In the first the debate was over two types of land, one a high land, the other low type land. The Supreme Court gave its verdict for different prices to be paid for different kinds of land and some related matters. In the second case, instead of determining different prices an average of the two prices was directed to be paid. In Rajarhat there is no question of different nature of land. What is the relevance of the quoted Supreme Court orders in this case? The farmers have been deprived of their due by giving untenable excuse of the Supreme Court orders.

Even the Comptroller and Auditor General had taken notice of this case of sheer cheating of farmers. In 2007 the CAG report said:

While determining the market price of 635.13 ha of land in four mouzas (Ghuni, Thakdari, Raigachi, Reejoani), the LAC (Land Acquisition Collector) at the instance of the Company and the Department, fixed the rates at two to 41 per cent below the prevailing market rates worked out on the prevailing rate of 1995. Consequently, 26,565 land owners were deprived of Rs 33.45 crores from 1998 to 2002, calculated at 1995 price loaded with five per cent premium per annum…At Gopalpura mouza, the LAC acquired 73.52 ha of land at the rate of Rs 16.72 to Rs 50.29 per hectare after depreciating (By 33½ per cent) the rates as per sale records of 1996. The LAC ignored the current market value of Rs 25.54 to Rs 76.62 lakh per hectare determined on the sale rates for 1995. Consequently, 3.012 land owners were deprived of Rs 16.89 crores…Thus fixation of awards for 708.65 ha of land below the prevailing rates in deviation of legal provisions resulted in depriving the land owners of getting additional award of Rs 50.34 crore. (para-2.1.14)

The HIDCO has deprived 29577 land owners of 50.34 crores of rupees and has acquired 708.65 hectare of land in the process. Till now 2417.59 hectares have been acquired for the Rajarhat New Town Project alone. Can we imagine the quantum of deprivation for the aggregate amount of land acquired? It is true that in some cases extra compensation has been paid. How can you suppress the entire mass if you do not reward a section of it?

Use of Special Articles

Under the land acquisition laws, after notification has been issued under article 4 all stake holders have been given the opportunity to express objection under the article no. 5A. After the collector considers the objections he sends them to the Government with his comments. The Government may accept the objections, or may reject them. Except under the special circumstances described in article 17, in general, the opportunity to register one’s objection cannot be withdrawn. The two related sections are as follows:

Section 5A – Hearing of objections – (1) Any person interested in any land which has been notified under Section 4, sub-section (1), as being needed or likely to be needed for a public purpose or for a company may, within thirty days from the date of the publication of notification, object to the acquisition of the land or of any land in the locality, as the case may be.

(2) Every objection under sub-section (1) shall be made to the Collector in writing, and the Collector shall give the objector an opportunity of being heard in person or by any person authorized by him in his behalf or by pleader and shall, after hearing all such objections and after making such further inquiry, if any, as he thinks necessary, either make a report in respect of the land, which has been notified under Section 4, sub-section (1), or make different reports in respect of different parcels of such land, to the appropriate Government, containing his recommendations on the objections, together with the record of the proceedings held by him, for the decision of that Government. The decision of the Appropriate Government on the objections shall be final.

(3) For the purpose of this section, a person shall be deemed to be interested in land who would be entitled to claim an interest in compensation if the land were acquired under this Act.

Section 17 – Special powers in cases of urgency – (1) In cases of urgency, whenever the appropriate Government so directs, the Collector, though no such award has been made may, on the expiration of fifteen days from the publication of the notice mentioned in section 9, sub-section (1), take possession of any land needed for a public purpose. Such land shall thereupon vest absolutely in the Government, free from all encumbrances, (2) Whenever owing to any sudden change in the channel of any navigable river or other unforeseen emergency, it becomes necessary for any Railway administration to acquire the immediate possession of any land for the maintenance of their traffic or for the purpose of making thereon a river-side or ghat station, or the providing convenient connection with or access to any such station, or the appropriate Government considers it necessary to acquire the immediate possession of any land for the purpose of maintaining any structure or system pertaining to irrigation, water supply, drainage, road communication or electricity, the Collector may, immediately after the publication of the notice mentioned in sub-section (1) and with the previous sanction of the appropriate Government, enter upon and take possession of such land, which shall thereupon vest absolutely in the Government free from all encumbrances. Provided that the Collector shall not take possession of any building or part of a building under this sub-section without giving to the occupier thereof of at least forty-eight hours’ notice of his intention so to do, or such longer notice as may be reasonably sufficient to enable such occupier to remove his movable property from such building without unnecessary inconvenience. (3) In every case under either of the preceding sub-sections the Collector shall at the time of taking possession offer to the persons interested, compensation for the standing crops and trees (if any) on such land and for any other damage sustained by them caused by such sudden dispossession and not except in section 24; and, in any case such offer is not accepted, the value of such crops and trees and the amount of such other damage shall be allowed for in awarding compensation for the land under the provisions herein contained. (3A) Before taking possession of any land under sub-section (1) or sub-section (2), the Collector shall, without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (3), (a) tender payment of eighty per centum of the compensation for such land as estimated by him to the persons interested entitled thereto, and (b) pay it to them, unless prevented by some one or more of the contingencies mentioned in section 31, sub-section (2), (except the second proviso thereto), shall apply as they apply to the payment of compensation under that section. (3B) the amount paid or deposited under sub-section (3A), shall be taken into account for determining the amount of compensation required to be tendered under section 31, and where the amount so paid or deposited exceeds the compensation awarded by the Collector under section 11, the excess may, unless refunded within three months from the date of the Collector’s award, be recovered as an arrear of land revenue.

(4) In the case of any land to which, in the opinion of the appropriate Government, the provisions of sub-section (1), or sub-section (2) are application, the appropriate Government may direct that the provisions of section 5A shall not apply, and if it does so direct, a declaration may be made under section 6 in respect of the land at any time after the date of the publication of the notification under section 4, sub-section (1).

Under the section 17, subsection 4 of the land acquisition act there is a provision to suspend registration of objection under the section 5A. Under the subsection 2, the railways can apply this subsection if there is a change in course of river, or some unforeseen circumstances, or reconstruction of railway tracks, irrigation systems, water supply, sewage, road connectivity, electricity transmission etc. The Supreme Court has given a clear directive that the Government cannot take away the rights of the people whenever it likes.

Section 17 confers extraordinary powers on the authorities under which it can dispense with the normal procedure laid down under Section 5A of the Act in exceptional case of urgency. Such powers cannot be lightly resorted to except in case of real urgency enabling the Government to take immediate possession of the land proposed to be acquired for public purpose. A public purpose, however laudable it may be, by itself is not sufficient to take aid of Section 17 to use this extraordinary power as use of such power deprives a land owner of his right in relation to immovable property to file objections for the proposed acquisition and it also dispenses with the inquiry under Section 5A of the Act…Normally urgency to acquire a land for public purpose does not arise suddenly or overnight but sometimes such urgencies may arise unexpectedly, exceptionally or extraordinarily depending on situations such as due to earthquake, flood or some specific time-bound project where the delay is likely to render the purpose nugatory or infructuous. A citizen’s property can be acquired in accordance with law but in the absence of real and genuine urgency, it may not be appropriate to deprive an aggrieved party of a fair and just opportunity of putting forth its objections for due consideration of the acquiring authority. While applying the urgency clause, the State should indeed act with due care and responsibility. Invoking urgency clause cannot be a substitute or support for the laxity, lethargy or lack of care on the part of the State Administration. (Union of India & Ors vs Krishan Lal Arneja & Ors on 28 April, 2004)

According to the Supreme Court’s interpretation when land is to be acquired on urgency clauses, the need for it does not arise all of a sudden. Land can be acquired on urgent basis in situations like earthquake, flood or in circumstances where the purpose of a project may get nullified due to the delay. But none of these were mentioned in notification of Rajarhat New Township Project, nor were they mentioned in the decisions taken at the ministerial level. The project which has been going on for years did not have any urgency, except for the excuse of silencing the farmers.

The booklet of the honourable Minister has no mention of these two important points. He has not talked of these to legal gags that were imposed in his speeches either. But we need the answers Mr. Minister!

Stealing of Livelihood

So far about 2421 hectares of land have been acquired till 2010 in the Rajarhat New Township Project. Out of this 2197 hectares or 91% is farm land. Those who have lost land are mostly marginal farmers. The CAG report says, “Most of the land acquired for NTP was in small plots of less than 10 decimals with few large contiguous plots of land.” In 2000-01 there were 3958 hectares of farm land in Rajarhat. Out of this 60% was multi-crop land. In 10 years 60% of the Rajarhat farm land has been devoured by the Township. In 1993-94 in 819 hectares there used to be fishery, with an annual production of 10388 quintals. In 2000-01 the area and production shrunk to 786 hectares and 2500 quintals. In 1993-94 according to Government reports there were two canals and many ponds, deep tube wells, shallow tube wells, river lift irrigation etc. About 2667 hectares of land were irrigated. In 2000-01 report the canals have vanished, number of ponds has halved, other sources of irrigation have also disappeared. Yet in 2000-01 report it has been shown that 2104 hectares are irrigated. This is 53% of the total farm land. (District Statistical Hand Book, Bureau of Applied Economics & Statistics, Government of West Bengal)

The data of production of crops in 1993-94 and 2000-01 in Rajarhat are as follows.

crop1.jpg

In 1993-94 paddy yield in the North 24 Pargana district was 2504 kg/hectare, it was 2340 kg/hectare in 2000-01. The average yield of paddy in the state was 2061 and 2287 respectively. In Rajarhat the figures was 2495. In other words, the average yield of paddy in Rajarhat was higher than the state yield (source: Economic Review, Government of West Bengal). The propaganda that the land which has been acquired in Rajarhat is infertile, that people’s lives and livelihood have not affected is a false propaganda. However the dry data which are presented here do not depict the ruthless oppression used to grab land.

According to the CAG report quoted earlier for per hectare of land there are 42 land owners in Rajarhat. Using this, we can guess that nearly two lakhs of people are to be evicted and their livelihood are to be destroyed for the 5400 hectares of land of New Town Project. Till now for the 2421 hectares of land acquired nearly 1.6 lakh people are to be receive compensation. So, more than one and half lakh people have already lost their livelihood. Besides, there are thousands of sharecroppers, landless farm labourers and other people whose professions are dependent on agriculture, who have lost their livelihood. In total the New Town Project is going to evict and destroy the livelihood of nearly two and half lakh people.

Urbanisation is Not in the Interest of the Urban People, but for Globalisation

The urbanization drive at Rajarhat is not an isolated incident. The Left Front Government is a small perpetrator in the massive urbanization, effected through evictions and massacres which have been going on in different countries in the interest of world-wide globalisation, driven by the interest of big capital, along the path recommended by the World Bank. In India the central government is the main priest of globalisation, the state governments are its junior attendants. The Left parties are pretending to be anti-globalisation, anti-central policy. They try to fool people by organizing anti-centre, anti-globalisation meetings and demonstrations. Yet they invited promoters, corporate giants in every economic sphere in West Bengal. Wherever you look in this state the only signs you will see are those of Ambuja, Shrachi, DLF – the giant construction firms. The sources of livelihood of the common people are being gobbled up by the development business. Rajarhat is also part of the central urbanization project – the West Bengal Left Front Government is its architect. In accordance with the World Bank condition the urban land ceiling act’s application has been suspended in the New Town Project (actually for many years the determination of ceiling in urban areas has been stopped). It is the interest and support of the middle and upper class which has supplied the Left Front Government with the courage to go ahead with the project. The rich dominate the parliamentary politics, hence the Opposition has kept their peace and did not oppose the so called development. Vending the dreams of high salary jobs for the educated youth, and luxury apartments, this development drive seeks to secure the support of the educated urban society. There is hardly any political gut left in the parliamentary politics which can examine how much of those dreams are going to actually materialise.

According to the data supplied by the honourable Minister, in the 20 companies altogether 18628 people have got employment in the IT sector. In 11 of these companies the employment generation is less than 500. In 7 from 1000 to 1500. In only two of the companies more than 3000 people have been employed. The number of registered unemployed in West Bengal today is more than 63 lakhs. The percentage of employment creation is 0.5%. Each year 3 lakh new unemployed youth are registering themselves. The number of new engineers alone is 30000 per year. In this scenario of vast unemployment the Rajarhat New Township Project is only a mirage.

datax1.jpg

All agree that in the age of market economy there is little scope of high employment generation in the organized sector. Those who get employment are absorbed in the high tech sector. The opportunity is limited to a very few. In our country 91% of workers are employed in the informal sector, in West Bengal the percentage is 90%. Largest number of these workers are dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. The more these people are separated from the natural resources the more such resources can be grabbed by the corporate houses, employment opportunities will become a distant dream. Merely creating a few syndicates are not going to provide jobs to the lakhs of people whose livelihood has been snatched away.

Will the Middle Class Dream Come True?

In the beginning, in 1994 the New Town Project was planned on an area of 2700 hectares. In 2000 the number went up to 3075 hectares. In 2005 it became 5000 hectares. At present it has gone up to 5400 hectares. It started with land acquisition in 21 mouzas, now the operation has spread to 25 mouzas. Another 2979 hectares would be acquired. The number of people who are waiting eviction and destruction of livelihood is more than the number who have already been evicted. All these evictions are being justified keeping in view the housing provision for the middle class. Leaving alone ethical questions, one may ask if the middle class dream of housing will be fulfilled. Initially it was planned that 50.5% of the project would be for residential purposes, industrial area for 6.5%, commercial area 4.6%, roads 9.7%, cultural and educational institutions 0.7%, open space and water bodies 28%. In 2006 residential area was curtailed to 38%, industrial area shrunk to 6%, commercial area rose to 10%, educational area 8%, roads 11%, open space 24%, 3% got earmarked for information technology. The educational institutions mentioned above are actually commercial enterprises. Residential area is shrinking, commercial area is expanding, slowly the Rajarhat land is being cornered by the rich. Share of the middle class is declining. The honourable Minister has referred to a FICCI report which says, “..an interesting phenomenon of the changing perception of New Town among prospective buyers from a predominantly MIG destination to a HIG destination. The number of applicants in the HIG is on the rise while those from the MIG segment have comparatively reduced.” Instead of middle class, MIG, the New Town has become the target property of the rich, HIG.

In the adjoining BRADA (Bhangore Rajarhat Area Development Authority) region of Rajarhat more than 4000 hectares of land are going to come under urbaninsation. This is a relatively less densely populated region, but still a few lakhs of people stand to lose their land and face eviction due to this project. The land sharks have already become active. Another saga of land refugees is going to unfold.

In short, Rajarhat New Township is the playing field of the corporate commercial enterprises and the rich. The fun park has been constructed at the price of lives and livelihoods of more than a lakh people. But from an environmental point of view, will not destruction of water bodies and greenery around Kolkata suffocate the city eventually? The day of judgment may not be very far away.