How to Acquire Land the Right Way
Amonth ago, Bengal was rocked by violence, protests and road blockages in Bhangar, on the southeastern fringes of Kolkata. The trigger was popular anger against acquisition of land by the Trinamool Congress government through 2012-14, for a Power Grid Corporation (PGCIL) project. Remember, chief minister Mamata Banerjee swept to power in 2011, opposing the then-Left Front government’s attempts to convert farm land into factory at Nandigram and Singur. Faced with the need to attract investment and electricity, ironically, Banerjee faces exactly the same sort of protest she initiated in her drive to power. There is no doubt now, as then, that Bengal needs investment and infrastructure. The question is how to balance the needs, livelihoods and expectations of farmers with those needs. The government has failed people in multiple ways. One, in a four-crop area with fish farms, NGOs claim farmers were duped to give up land cheap. Two, locals claim the administration did not tell them that a transmission project would not generate any extra power for the region but carry it elsewhere. Three, the administration has got no reply from PGCIL whether the SF6 gas used as a coolant for the plant, can be potentially harmful for the environment. Four, the failure of the administration and PGCIL to respond to locals’ concerns, created fear and mistrust among the latter. Finally, when locals protested, police responded with arrests and intimidation; two protesters have been shot dead.
This is exactly the sort of land-grab that Banerjee accused the Left of practising. It should go back to first principles: the only way to acquire land for investment is by engineering a method of making land-losers stakeholders in the development built on their land.