How CPI(M) duped villagers and gave away land to corporates for a song

Long before Singur and Nandigram defined land acquisition in West Bengal, Rajarhat symbolised half-realised dreams, poor administrative planning and more than anything else, an impromptu land acquisition drive. The Left Front government had apparently acquired about 7,500 acres across 40 villages in Rajarhat, mostly without the consent of the owners.

Close to an information technology special economic zone in New Town is Patharghata village. Here, almost all villagers allege they lost their farmlands to the government. Resentment for land acquired more than a decade ago is still alive, as most of it was acquired without informing the owners. ‘The CPI(M) government forced farmers to sell large tracts of land at gunpoint at abysmally low prices.

The beneficiaries were private players, including the CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu’s son, Chandan Basu. There should be a thorough investigation into the scam here,’ said Trinamool MP Sougata Roy.
Most of the land in New Town was acquired for Rs 3 lakh an acre, almost half the market price of Rs 6 lakh an acre at that time. Earlier, Rajarhat had fertile, arable land, with crops grown three times a year. This gave good returns.

The government’s abrupt land acquisition resulted in farmers taking up contract labour, housekeeping and security jobs. ‘In the process of developing Rajarhat as a township, about 25,000 farmers lost their land, while about 1,00,000 landless farmers lost their jobs,’ said Nilotpal Dutta, secretary of the Rajarhat Jami Bacchao Committee, which is backed by the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Pranab Dey, the ex Deputy General Secretary of the West Bengal Land Reforms Officers’ Association, says a small amendment in the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955, also allowed the Left government to transfer large tracts of industrial land to corporates at minimal price. ‘Sick companies were given ownership of  land at lowered value. But they ventured into real estate and made profits. Bata and Hindustan Motors were the beneficiaries,’ he said. The wrongdoings haven’t been reversed yet, though the new government has been taking strides to acquire industrial land. But about two decades after the plan was conceived, the enthusiasm surrounding Rajarhat has fizzled, with haphazard real estate development and lack of infrastructure.

Recently, the agency responsible for implementation of the project, West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation, had to re-launch competitive bidding for selling land for an IT hub. This is because, in first round, it had received only one expression of interest. However, for farmers of Rajarhat, the loss is something they have lived with for over a decade.
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