LAND acquisition woes have led to the exit of one more project from West Bengal. Last time, Tata Motors’ decision to shift its Nano factory from Singur to Sanand in Gujarat was Narendra Modi’s gain. This time, the decision of Power Grid Corporation of India to shift its power transmission project from Karandighi in North Dinajpur to just 50 kilometres away in neighbouring Bihar’s Kishanganj is Nitish Kumar’s gain.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s fierce opposition to forcible acquisition of land, not even in cases of building infrastructure, is costing the state dear as major companies are moving out. Farmers in the state are demanding high land prices and resorting to agitation, but the state government is just not willing to intervene.
Power Grid Corporation of India, a central PSU engaged in inter-state transmission of electricity, failed to get 65 acres of land at Karandighi even after it gave Rs 15 crore to the state government for disbursement among farmers from whom land would be acquired.
Of the Rs 15 crore, Rs 2.5 crore have already been distributed among those land holders from whom about 15 acres of land was acquired. But soon, the land acquisition process hit a roadblock with farmers mounting opposition and demanding more money for their land, which led the PSU to shift the project to Kishanganj in Bihar at the fag end of last year.
Now, the officials of the corporation are knocking the doors of Mamata Banerjee government demanding Rs 2.5 crore. But the officials of the Land and Land Reforms Department of the state government don’t know how to retrieve the distributed money from the farmers. “Around 50 families of farmers have received the money and they might have wined and dined with the money. The officials of Power Grid earlier wanted Rs 12.5 crore out of Rs 15 crore that they gave us. We thought the matter was over. But now they have come to us demanding the remaining Rs 2.5 crore, and we don’t know how to retrieve the money,” an official of the land department told The Indian Express.
It was in early 2011 that the PSU approached the state government with the request for land at Karandighi to set up a sub-station. The state government pegged the land price at Rs 19 lakh per acre and the company gave Rs 15 crore for disbursement among the farmers. The formal process of acquiring land (declaring award etc) was complete in the mid-2012 and compensation at the existing rate (current market price of the land and 30 per cent solatium of the market rate) was declared. By May 2012, the state government started paying money and Rs 2.5 crore was distributed among some farmers who gave up the possession of their land.
But trouble started by August when a section of farmers set up a Bhumi Ucched Birodhi (anti-land acquisition) committee and demanded more compensation for the land. The land acquisition process was stalled. After all the efforts by the officials to win back the farmers fell through, Power Grid decided to quit.
“Had the project come up here, the economy of the area would have changed,” an official of the agency’s unit at Dalkhola in North Dinajpur district told The Indian Express.
However, Commerce and Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee said he was not at all aware of the project. “I will look into it,” Chatterjee told The Indian Express.
KOLKATA: Alchemist Township India Ltd, a Delhi-based real estate developer, has bought 20 acres of prime land in the Aerotropolis being developed by Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd (BAPL) at Durgapur, 180 kilometres from Kolkata. Leading international property consultants Jones Lang LaSalle India were the transaction mediators for this deal, which is West Bengal’s largest land transaction in 2013 to date.
“This acquisition marks Alchemist’s formal entry into the east India residential real estate space,” said a company spokesperson. “We are on an aggressive expansion and diversification drive, and the Durgapur Aerotropolis undertaking will be the first in several forays into the residential real estate domain. At Durgapur, we will be focusing on the budget homes segment.”
This project envisages developing 2.4 million sq. ft. for housing. The company has set a target to develop 10 million sq. ft. for affordable homes in Eastern India, which will include Bengal, Orrisa, Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand. BAPL’s Aerotropolis (or Airport City) is a massive project in Durgapur which is poised to reshape the aviation and industrial map of eastern India. With Changi Airports International – one of the world’s largest airport management companies – as a 26% equity stakeholder, the Durgapur Aerotropolis will have the country’s first privately-owned and operated airport.
The Aerotropolis is a unique urban development model that places the airport at its core, to act as a major economic growth driver for areas surrounding it. Mayank Saksena, Managing Director – Land Services, Jones Lang LaSalle India says, “We have already seen the Aerotropolis model successfully implemented in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. The Durgapur Aerotropolis is definitely going to change the socio-economic profile of the Durgapur-Asansol region, and is all set to become a major game-changer for West Bengal. Alchemist Group’s acquisition of this massive land parcel for residential development is important not only because it the largest in West Bengal this year, but because it will be a vital chapter of real estate history in the making. The Durgapur Aerotropolis is going to be one of the most dynamic employment generators in the region – and indeed in India.”
Partha Ghosh, Promoter Director – Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Ltd said, “This acquisition is a significant milestone for BAPL as well as the Alchemist Group. We are talking about the formation of a new metropolitan destination in Eastern India, which will rival Kolkata. The Durgapur Aerotropolis is already attracting substantial investments into industries, services and associated sectors – not only from organisations in Bengal but from across India as well as globally.”
KOLKATA: The East West Metro project may have been grappling with realignment issues, funds crunch, land acquisition problems and non-cooperation from the Mamata Banerjee government, but it has managed to trundle past the Sealdah crossover on one end and completed 93% of the viaduct (elevated portion) construction. It is now steering ahead with related activity like building stations, repairing roads and the like.
The trans-Hooghly project, supposed to join Salt Lake with Howrah, is expected to reach Sealdah station in October even if there is serious uncertainty beyond this point. But what is most important is that after completing the Subhas Sarovar-Phoolbagan stretch, the tunnel has now reached the Sealdah crossover (this is where the rakes can cross over from one track to another), about 660 metres from Sealdah station. Tunnelling beyond the crossover begins in July so that tracks can be laid up to Sealdah station in another three months. The merging of the elevated tracks with the tunnel is also done and the authorities will soon start restoring Subhas Sarovar, which has gone through massive digging for more than four years now.
On the eastern part of the tunnel (from Sealdah crossover to Phoolbagan), work had started on October 17 last year. It’s almost complete now and the breakthrough at Phoolbagan is expected next week. On the western part, the tunnelling started on November 26, 2012, as minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury laid the foundation stone. Now, 850m out of 1,320m have been done. The breakthrough is likely next month.
The East-West Metro, with a length of 14.58km (including 5.74km viaduct and 8.84km tunnel), is being developed jointly by the railways and the ministry of urban development through a special purpose vehicle, Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC). The ambitious project is the city’s only hope since Kolkata has expanded manifold since the north-south Metro came into being on October 24, 1984. The existing lifeline, undoubtedly, has failed to keep pace with the city’s growth.
“The state’s noncooperation is evident in the project in which it’s no longer a stake-holder,” junior railway minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said. He defended the lower budgetary allocation, saying: “What is the point of higher allocation if Kolkata Metro cannot use it because of the state’s noncooperation?”
More than funding, it is land acquisition issues and the state government’s noncooperation that is posing the biggest challenge for the east-west expansion. After the state handed over its entire stake to railways, it withdrew its application from a Division Bench of the Calcutta high court, leaving the Central and Mahakaran stations in jeopardy. In court, the state was defending the land acquisition executed by it, but suddenly made a U-turn after Mamata Banerjee walked out of UPA-II, saying it was not ready to take on the responsibility. A month ago, the state agreed to be a party to it. But the flip-flop and the realignment, being imposed by the Mamata Banerjee government has made a holistic execution of the project impossible. Therefore, once the tracks are laid down till Sealdah station, the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will have to be extracted from underground and the work will come to a halt.
Surprisingly, the looming end-of-the-road fear apprehensions have not dissuaded KMRC. As a senior engineer put it: “We are determined to bring out the positives within the negatives. KMRC has adopted an internal policy, resolving to make full use of whatever is at hand.”
Work for the elevated portion (viaduct) – between Salt Lake Sector V and Subhas Sarovar – is almost complete, excepting the point which is engulfed in land dispute (Duttabad), thanks to political interference. The joining of the viaduct at Duttabad now depends on resolving acquisition of 7,300 sqm.
As the authorities slug it out with different parties, those at the execution level continue to slog 24×7, achieving newer deadlines. “Even if the tunnel gets stuck at Sealdah station, we shall still have our hands full because it takes at least two years to construct the underground stations,” said an official. KMRC has started constructing stations at Phoolbagan and Sealdah, but the future of Central station remains uncertain till the litigation is resolved.
KOLKATA: If the term “concrete jungle” is used to describe a city burdened with ugly brick-and-steel structures, there can’t be a better example than Kolkata. But there has been no concerted effort to check the trend. Instead, an environment status report prepared by an NGO suggests the share of open space in the city has shrunk to an alarming 5.5% from around 13% a decade ago. The impact of an infrastructure boom, encroachment of parks and felling of trees could be crippling, believe experts.
According to the World Health Organization, at least 15% of a city’s total area should be open space. Most Indian metros fall below the mark, including Kolkata. Mumbai has a public open space of only 14 sq km, or 2.5%, of the city’s total area. While it is worse than Kolkata, what has left environmentalists worried is the sharp rate at which open spaces have vanished in the city.
“About 13 years ago, it would be slightly over 13%, which was not bad. Since then, we have seen a rapid decline. If you leave out Maidan, the city’s open space would be just about 3%, which is marginally better than Mumbai,” said AK Ghosh, president of the Society for Environment and Development, the NGO that has conducted the study.
Simulataneously, the report points out that while Kolkata had just 290 parks a decade ago, the number had gone up to 600 by 2010. “Ten years ago, 50 out of the city’s 141 wards had no parks. It is surprising that we now have 600 parks. Other than the Millenium Park and the Mohar Kunja, the rest have been carved out of existing parks or open spaces and are hardly big enough to make a difference,” said Ghosh.
Illegal encroachment and municipal projects have also eaten into the parks, the study pointed out. “Major parks like the Vivekananda Park are victims of encroachment. An entire slum has come up within Vivekananda Park. Numerous parks across the city have shrunk following construction of water pumping stations inside their premises,” said Ghosh.
The World Health Organization recommends that 9 square metre of green open space per dweller should be the minimal norm for a city. While planned cities across the world have 80 sq m per dweller green space on an average, Indian metros fare poorly in comparison. Chennai is among the poorest with just 0.46 sq m. Gandhinagar has the highest green space per dweller (162 sq m). Chandigarh has 54, Delhi has 21 and Bangalore has 17 sq m. In other words, the amount of open space within the city has to be increased by at least 20 times to meet the bare minimum norm. Kolkata needs to have 50% more open space to meet the minimum recommended standard.
It could be difficult considering that the city has lost around 0.5% of its organized open space (parks and gardens) in the last 10 years, said green activist Subhas Datta. “We have seen a fragmentation of parks that has added to the numbers but failed to increase open space. On the other hand, widening of roads and flyover construction has taken away organized open space that can’t be reclaimed. It will go down further since development activities are on in full swing,” said Datta.
Kolkata’s green cover, too, has been steadily declining. In comparison, the green cover in Delhi and Mumbai are much higher. While the Capital has a cover of 19.09%, Mumbai was marginally behind at around 18%. The national average stands at a healthier 19.49% and Kolkata lags far behind, at 5.5%. The erosion of greenery in the city has also led to a loss of biodiversity. Along with birds that nest in them, trees also play host to species like bats, rhesus monkeys, palm civet cats and squirrels, which have been disappearing from the city proper.
Ahead of its second anniversary two days later, the Trinamool Congress government today announced three important policy decisions, including the much-awaited industrial investment and incentive policy. A new textile policy and the policies for the micro, small and medium enterprises were also announced on the day.
The industry circles in the state had been urging the state government to come up with the new policy. The earlier industrial policy of the state government had come into force in 2008 when the Left Front was in power and ceased to be valid this year.
An industry representative in the core committee on industry set up by the state government welcomed the announcement but said they would take some time to study the policies and give their reactions. “However, it was long overdue,” he said on conditions of anonymity.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while addressing the media today, said the draft of the three policies will be uploaded on the website of the government, and experts and public can send their suggestions on the policies. Any suggestion on these policies would be considered by the state government and would be accepted till June 30, she added.
Keeping in mind the ensuing panchayat polls in the state, the Chief Minister also announced hike in monthly payments for “contractual and casual” workers under the state government.
“We have thought about the contractual and casual workers in the state. The Group D casual workers who have been working for less than 10 years would get a lumpsum of Rs 7,000 (they were earlier paid Rs 5,000). The workers who have been working for more than 10 years would get Rs 8,500 (they were earlier getting Rs 6,200).” Mamata also announced a raise of almost Rs 2,000 for Group C workers.
Meanwhile, in the new industrial policy, the government has emphasised industrial parks and hubs.
Industry minister Partha Chatterjee said the government has concentrated on industrial parks and industrial hubs to be developed on PPP (public private partnership) model. “The state government has uploaded its industrial policy, in which focus has been given on industrial parks and industrial hub to be developed on PPP model. Land allocation and incentive offers have also been incorporated in the document.”
“While drafting the policy, we studied the industrial policies of at least eight to ten other states so that Bengal’s policy could accelerate the pace of industrialisation. We are open to suggestions from various chambers and industries and we will incorporate those, if found practical, in the final industry policy document.”
The government has also announced its new textile policy and MSME policy.
Mamata said this was the first time the state had announced the textile policy which would encourage weavers, garment manufacturers and hosiery units.
“The government will give various benefits to both MSME and textiles, which included capital investment subsidy, capital interest subsidy on term loan, electricity duty waiver, power subsidy, energy efficiency incentive, stamp duty and registration duty waiver, entry tax reimbursement on plant and machinery, VAT reimbursement, advantages for water conservation, environmental compliance, cluster development, skill and human resources development were the key features of the new policy. This will be applicable to both textile and MSME,” said state finance minister Amit Mitra.
KOLKATA: The Calcutta high court has ordered the state government to ensure that the character of Mullarbaer in Dankuni off Durgapur Expressway, is not changed, raising hope among locals as well as environment action groups that the sprawling wetland that was being filled up may yet be saved.
Responding to a public interest litigation filed by PUBLIC with the support of other NGOs, Chief Justice of Calcutta high court Arun Kumar Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi ruled on Wednesday that status quo be maintained and the nature and character of the land not be changed.
Pleading for the petitioners, Mr Sidhartha Mitra showed the court pictures of the destruction , including the crushed yellow monitor lizard, to get the order just as the court prepares to go on vacation.
Since January this year, a group of NGOs – PUBLIC, WWF India, Disha and Forum for Human, Legal & Ecological Rights (LHLER) – has been fighting for the 500-hectare marshy land that is home to animals such as the jungle cat and the fishing cat as well as a migratory stop for birds whose breeding grounds stretch from Finland to eastern Siberia.
TOI, too, had visited the spot with the activists and reported on how hundreds of trucks were dumping fly ash on the marshy land, crushing monitor lizards and burying fish and other aquatic species. Following the report along with a telling photograph of a crushed yellow monitor lizard, the activist groups moved the high court, seeking its intervention in saving the biodiversity hotspot.
“What galvanized the NGOs into action was the photograph of a yellow monitor lizard (protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 – the schedule that protects the tiger) crushed by the wheels of the trucks dumping fly ash into the wetlands,” recounted Bonani Kakkar of PUBLIC.
Mullarbaer along with several other sites in the belt has been a favourite spot for birdwatchers. They discovered the destruction and alerted green activists. According to some birding enthusiasts, rare birds such as yellow-breasted bunting, western marsh harrier and the crested serpent eagle could be sighted till as late as November.
Moreover, activists added that the presence of at least one mammal, two birds and a reptile belonging to the Schedule I of IWPA, 1972, is bound to guarantee legal protection of the highest level should be guaranteed. Also, the West Bengal Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1993, and National Environmental Policy, 2006 have enabling causes to protect wetlands.
“Despite repeated appeals to officials like the chief secretary to the environment secretary, the forest secretary and even to the district magistrate, the trucks – 100 to 150 a day – kept coming, choking the area with fly ash,” said Kunal Guha Roy of FHLER. Though delighted at the order, activists caution that this is only the first step. “So much damage has been done that restoration will be a real challenge,” said Kakkar. Like the proverbial phoenix, will yellow monitor lizards rise from the fly ash?
CHIEF Minister Mamata Banerjee, who reached Darjeeling today on a three-day tour on an invitation from Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) chief Bimal Gurung, said her love for the Hills continued and she had been working there for several developmental projects, including road and tourism projects.
After meeting Gurung in the evening, Mamata said: “We love the Hills and the people of the Hills also love me a lot. Since the time I became Railway minister, I have been visiting this place and started several projects here. After becoming chief minister, my love for the hills continues. I have visited the place at least 21 times after I became CM.”
The Chief Minister said she has started several projects in Terai and Dooar region as well. “We will set up an industrial town in Falakata, a film city will come up in Siliguri, and we have plans to set up another tourism hub and a film city in Banarhat in Jalpaiguri where we have already got 160 acres of land.”
Contrary to Mamata’s last meeting in Darjeeling on January 29 that was controlled by the district administration, this time her visit has been organised by the GTA.
Mamata’s meeting with the GJM leadership is significant given that the relation between the two deteriorated earlier in the year. The GJM leaders had been offended by the CM’s remarks that Darjeeling cannot be separated from Bengal and that she could be “rough and tough” if the need arose.
The equation changed after hundreds of GJM supporters and workers joined Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) recently.
GJM general secretary Roshan Giri had met Mamata in April-end at the state secretariat and invited her to join the GTA programmes in Darjeeling in May.
“The influence of anti-GJM parties, including GNLF, is increasing in the hills. Several hundreds of our workers and supporters have joined GNLF. Two senior GJM leaders, including a Nari Morcha leader of Kalimpong, joined GNLF. In April, around 100 workers joined Trinamool Congress in Darjeeling in a meeting held by TMC minister Gautam Deb. Moreover, the GTA needs to be operational to resume development works in the Hills. So, in a central committee meeting last month, it was decided that the party will start convincing the chief minister and seek support to run the GTA,” said a senior GJM leader.
Sources in the GJM said Mamata will inaugurate an auditorium — a “pet project” of Ghising that was being constructed for a decade — tomorrow in Darjeeling.
Meanwhile, the GJM leaders said Mamata’s visit to the Hills is the only “good thing” happening to the CM after the Saradha Group companies went bust. “The ruling party needs something to tell the people before the panchayat elections. And the only positive development is her visiting the Hills ,” said a GJM central committee member.
KOLKATA: Check the land deed twice before you buy a plot from a broker. Chances are that the deed is fake, a clone of the original, like counterfeit notes. Land deed cloning is the Ponzi firm’s latest gift to fraudulent trade in the state.
TOI has learnt that Ponzi firm owners had started the fraud with a section of bank and land registration officials. They fake signatures and seal of the land registration authorities, thus selling the same plot to many buyers. Hundreds of complaints have poured into the Shyamal Sen commission’s office set up to probe the Saradha muddle, where many have lodged co plaints against fake land deeds, apart from asking for a refund of money. Such fake dealings in the way of multiple mortgages have also added to the bad assets of banks.
“Most of the cases involving fake or cloned documents in land deals have been reported from districts like South and North 24-Parganas and Nadia,” said Dipankar Mukherjee, secretary of the All India Bank officers’ Confederation (West Bengal state unit).
Alarmed with the situation, the state government had started to confiscate land lying with the suspicious companies. The government has started to seize land of companies that have more than 24 acre in possession.
“The trend of duping banks by forging land deeds was high in the middle of the past decade. City police have busted several rackets where fraudsters had managed to get bank loans with forged documents, and in some cases loans were obtained from different banks showing the same land or property. In several cases, probe unearthed a nexus between the fraudsters and a section of bank employees. But now, after busting several rackets, we have managed to buck the trend,” said Pallav Kanti Ghosh, joint CP (Crime), Kolkata Police.
According to bank sources, the fraudsters close land documents and sell the same piece of land to several people. “It is difficult to make out the fake from the original as those are done very meticulously. They even copy stamp of the registering authorities and signature on the original,” said a bank official.
T R Chawla, executive director of Allahabad Bank, said most of the frauds that are reported are done by individuals. “We have seen cases where documents were faked but mostly these are done by individuals, rather than any corporate entity,” he said.
Although the number of land frauds has come down after the banks in the state have started using Central Registry of Securitisation Asset Reconstruction and Security Interest (CERSAI), the fraudsters have taken innovative routes to dupe people. “There is a mechanism that allows us to search if that land had already been mortgaged with any bank. But if that land is already sold to an individual and has no mortgage records, it is difficult to track it down,” Mukherjee said.
According to Deepak Narang, executive director of United Bank of India, “We have been able to contain such frauds after the banks have started using certified copies of land deeds and using CERSAI extensively.
Banglar Bhumi, a portal on land records of West Bengal, is ready to provide all land related information to people, particularly entrepreneurs, sources in the Land and Land Reforms department said.
The land have been divided into various zones like agricultural zone, industrial zone and tourism zone for easy spotting of target lands.
“The basic idea behind marking the zones is that industrial and other big projects of the state government and the Centre will be located in the appropriate zones without disturbing food security in the state,” sources said.
The block-wise land use maps show single, double and multi crops land, dry and barren land, forest land, metal roads, national highway, state highway, railway network, industrial area, area under infrastructural development and water bodies etc.
“This will help the entrepreneurs intending to set up industries know the actual infrastructure available at the proposed sites,” sources said.
However, the concept of zoning in block-wise maps of the districts was introduced in May 2011 to identify agricultural zone, industrial zone and tourism zone, townships and wetlands.
The block-wise land use maps of five districts — West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Burdwan and Birbhum — have been prepared and formally published in March 2010.
KOLKATA: West Bengal did not receive any investment, either foreign or domestic, in the real estate sector in the financial year 2012-13, according to a report by industry body Assocham.
“The state of West Bengal has absolutely no share in the total value of new investment commitments worth over Rs 42,000 crore made by the domestic and foreign private sources in the real estate sector across India in the last fiscal,” the report which a real estate sector specific analysis and released today, said.
“Although total outstanding investments in the real estate sector in West Bengal is worth over Rs 37,000 crore as of March 2013, the state has registered a 100 per cent decline vis-a-vis new investment commitments attracted by the realty sector between 2011-12 and 2012-13,” it said.
In 2011-12, the state attracted new investment commitments in the real estate sector worth over Rs 1,200 crore.
The body said while most of the states have seen a decline in attracting new investment commitments in the realty sector, Gujarat has seen a surge of over 700 per cent as the state has attracted investments worth over Rs 17,000 crore in 2012-13 from just over Rs 2,000 crore a year ago.