Tea garden land not to be converted to freehold industrial land: Chief Secy

Land in tea gardens which is government leasehold will not be converted into freehold industrial land, assured Chief Secretary, HK Dwivedi while talking to media persons in Siliguri on Wednesday.

“The West Bengal Assembly has approved of government leasehold land to be converted to freehold industrial land. This Bill was passed in the Assembly. However, tea plantation areas will not be included in this because tea gardens are our heritage. We have to save them. If the area of tea plantations decreases it will affect the economy of this region. However, 15 per cent of vacant land within the tea garden area which is already under the Tea Tourism Policy has been allowed to be used for commercial and industrial activities. These include nursing schools, agriculture, horticulture and tea tourism,” stated Dwivedi.

With this Bill being passed there was widespread apprehension that tea owners would convert the land under them and indulge in more lucrative businesses like tea tourism which would jeopardize the livelihood of tea garden workers.“For a long time people, specially the tea garden labourers are living in tea garden areas. They did not have pattas for which they could not develop their houses and were unable to get other facilities related to land rights. These lands are being marked. The government will provide them with the land documents after communicating with the tea garden owners. The process has already started,” the Chief Secretary said.

He said that 8 closed tea gardens have been earmarked and NOC has been issued by the management of one. “508 acres of land is available in the 9 tea gardens where pattas can be given,” he said.

The Chief Secretary on Wednesday held a meet with tea garden owners on the issue. Owners of tea gardens from all districts of North Bengal were present.

“We used to give No Objection Certificate (NOC) for house construction. We have also faced encroachment issues too. The Chief Secretary has asked us to submit a report. We will send a report to him within two weeks. After that concrete decisions can be taken,” Mahendra Prasad Bansal, Secretary of TIPA representing the management, said.

Later, the Chief Secretary in a press conference gave a synopsis of potential investment in the next 3 to 5 years in North Bengal. He stated that the projected figure for MSME and textiles, Industries and Commerce is Rs 3506 crore. For the upcoming Industrial Park, it is Rs 3526 crore, Agri and allied Rs 3044 crore and tourism and tea Rs 950 crore. A total of Rs 11026 crore has been projected with an employment potential (direct and indirect) of 1,25,000.

Meanwhile, the Tea Joint Forum, a conglomeration of 10 tea unions are claiming that with this approval of freehold land ultimately, the tea garden lands will be completely handed over to the industrialists.A public convention will be held against the Bill on March 1, in Siliguri along with a review petition for the Bill to the Governor is on the anvil.

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