Tuesday, January 17, 2012

News Article: Bengal's First Report Echoes Industry Fears

Pranesh Sarkar
Saturday, 14 January 2012 10:11

Calcutta: A preliminary report on the land bank, the magic pot that was supposed to offer the Mamata Banerjee government a palatable solution to the industry hurdle, has painted a grim picture. The report, sent to the chief minister earlier this week, has revealed that 90 per cent of the vested (government-owned) land in Bengal comprises scattered, small plots and nearly 50 per cent of plots are either encroached upon or under litigation.

Besides, 70 per cent of the large parcels are situated in districts facing infrastructure or law-and-order problems. The state has around 2.5 lakh acres of vested land, according to the report that was drawn up on the basis of data sent by district magistrates and 34 departments. The figure in itself may look sizable but the devil lurks in the details.

“The first comprehensive report on the land bank is not very encouraging for the state government. The size of 90 per cent of the plots falls below 100 acres. As big manufacturing industry requires bigger plots, these plots cannot be used to attract big industry,” said a senior state government official who has seen the report.

This report, however, is not the final one. Some departments like health and family welfare, housing, panchayat and rural development and animal resources development are yet to submit the status reports to the land and land reforms department, which will collate data and prepare the final report.

However, according to estimates given by senior officials in the land and land reforms department, the size of the land bank is not expected to go up by more than 50,000-75,000 acres once all the departments submit the details. “The quantum of land available will go up in the final report. But we don’t expect the size of the land parcels to be significantly different from what we have found in the preliminary report,” said the official. The state government has so far been trying to address industry’s overriding concern at the hands-off land policy by referring to the land bank as the cure.

According to the first report, only a “small” percentage of land — measuring between 100 and 700 acres — can accommodate industry. The number of such land parcels is put at not more than 150. Officials said that plots of this size could be used to set up industries like automobile units.

However, the location of these plots poses a problem. “Around 70 per cent of these land parcels are located in districts like West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia while some of them are in Birbhum, Burdwan and in isolated islands of South 24-Parganas. It is tough to convince industrialists to go to these areas either because of law-and-order problems or lack of infrastructure,” an official said.

The preliminary report on the land bank has revealed that the state has very few land parcels measuring between 900 and 1,200 acres. For projects in power and steel, land should be in excess of 900 acres, said an official, pointing out that L&T had sought 1,200 acres to set up a 1,600MW power plant.

“We are finding it difficult to scout for contiguous land parcels to meet such demands…. We could only find three-four plots (for the L&T project), measuring between 500 acres and 700 acres, and all of them were located in West Midnapore,” the official said.

Mamata has said several times in the past few months that her government will encourage industry to explore investment opportunities in the districts. She has also promised to create infrastructure to facilitate industrialization in areas that are traditionally perceived as backward regions. However, the government has yet to come up with resource generation plans that can bankroll the creation of infrastructure.

“Industrialists expect the government to create infrastructure before going to the districts while the government is saying that they will create the infrastructure once industry decides to go to the districts. It is like a chicken-and-egg problem,” said a senior official in a city-based chamber.

The seven-month-old government has another difficult task at hand before placing the details of the land bank to potential investors.

“The government will have to remove encroachments and settle legal disputes. Removing encroachments is a politically sensitive issue while resolving legal tangles is a time-consuming process,” the official added.

CM lowers bar

Mamata on Friday sought to scale down the expectations from her. She explained that her oft-repeated pledge to transform Calcutta into London was “an idea” and cited land encumbrance as well as the funds crunch. “Small is beautiful… beauty is in the mind,” Mamata said in Digha.

- The Telegraph

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