WEST BEN­GAL: STILL ON THE FENCE

De­spite the Cen­tre’s alarm over the in­flux of ex­trem­ists, the Ma­mata gov­ern­ment is slow in fenc­ing a por­ous Bangladesh bor­der stretch

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

Con­tin­u­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing in­fil­tra­tion by ex­trem­ist el­e­ments, across some 400 km of un­fenced sec­tions of the West Ben­gal-Bangladesh bor­der has been red-flagged by the Union min­is­ter for home, Ra­j­nath Singh. How­ever, chief min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee sees things quite dif­fer­ently.

Be­sides strik­ing a con­trary note to the RSS, which also raised the is­sue of in­fil­tra­tion by ji­hadists at its Coim­bat­ore con­ven­tion in March 2017, Ma­mata’s po­si­tion stems from her re­luc­tance to ini­ti­ate land ac­qui­si­tion to plug the por­ous fron­tier.

The Tri­namool Congress gov­ern­ment, which rode to power on sus­tained ag­i­ta­tions against land ac­qui­si­tion, is un­der­stand­ably re­luc­tant to be seen pur­su­ing an ag­gres­sive land ac­qui­si­tion pol­icy.

New land pol­icy brought in by Ma­mata weighs strongly in favour of pri­vate pur­chase of land through ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ments with own­ers. But in a state like West Ben­gal, where hold­ings are frag­mented, pur­chas­ing land for any project, if not im­pos­si­ble, is highly cum­ber­some and time con­sum­ing. It is now also pos­ing hur­dles to ac­quir­ing land for bor­der fenc­ing.

The state cab­i­net took a full year to ap­prove the Union home min­istry’s ini­tial re­quest for land to fence 107 km of the bor­der. And even then, the state

gov­ern­ment only agreed to part with 691 of the 751 acres needed to raise a se­cu­rity fence and re­lated para­pher­na­lia along the 107 km stretch.

P.S.R. An­janeyulu, in­spec­tor gen­eral of Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force’s South Ben­gal Fron­tier, says even though the state cab­i­net ac­corded for­mal ap­proval in Septem­ber 2017, no work has com­menced on the ground in the bor­der dis­tricts.

An­a­lysts say the state gov­ern­ment is un­likely to ini­ti­ate land ac­qui­si­tion be­fore the pan­chayat elec­tions sched­uled in April-May.

“Ma­mata Ban­er­jee doesn’t want to get into any con­tro­versy and an­tag­o­nise her vote bank,” says Biswanath Chakrabort­y, head of the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence de­part­ment at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati Uni­ver­sity, point­ing to the prox­i­mal pan­chayat elec­tions and the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions. De­cry­ing the Ma­mata gov­ern­ment’s de­lay, state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh says, “De­spite know­ing that na­tional se­cu­rity is at stake and the bor­ders are be­ing used by JMB [Ja­maat-ul-Mu­jahideen Bangladesh] mil­i­tants and ex­trem­ists, the chief min­is­ter is go­ing slow in ar­rang­ing land.” Some state gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials too con­trast the sit­u­a­tion with Pun­jab and Ra­jasthan, where bor­der fenc­ing was taken up on a war foot­ing and com­pleted years ago.

Ac­cus­ing Ma­mata of “de­lib­er­ately keep­ing the ac­qui­si­tion on hold to help in­fil­tra­tors set­tle down as her vot­ers”, Ghosh cites this as in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence of the chief min­is­ter’s pol­i­tics of ap­pease­ment.

THE STATE CAB­I­NET TOOK A YEAR TO OKAY THE CEN­TRE’S INI­TIAL RE­QUEST FOR LAND TO FENCE 107 km OF THE BOR­DER

RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI/REUTERS

OPEN BOR­DERS A BSF trooper at an un­fenced sec­tion of the India-Bangladesh bor­der in West Ben­gal

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