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