People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 11, 2005
On Land Use In West Bengal
amendments made to the land reform act in West Bengal during the last assembly
session created quite a lot of controversy mainly due to slanted media coverage.
The land ceiling laws were being diluted, it was alleged. Agricultural land was
going to be converted on a large scale for industrial and other non-agricultural
purposes, it was claimed. It was declared that the CPI(M) was a divided house
regarding the changes in the law. The chief minister was said to be waging a
battle within his own Party.
these coloured reports were put out by the media all over the country. The
attempt was to depict the “reformist” chief minister bent upon handing over
large tracts of prime agricultural land to industrial houses and foreign
CPI(M) is legitimately proud of the achievements of the Left Front government in
undertaking land reforms. It is these reforms, the most advanced in the country,
which laid the basis for the expansion of agricultural production and making
West Bengal the largest rice producer in the country. The state produces 150
lakh (15 million) metric tonnes of rice annually. Nearly 11 lakh acres surplus
land was taken over and distributed. This constitutes about 20 per cent of the
land redistributed in the whole of India. Apart from that 14 lakh bargadars
(share croppers) were registered guaranteeing security of tenure.
Bengal has 1.35 crore (13.5 million) acres of agricultural land, 72 per cent of
which is cultivated by small and marginal farmers. The ceiling on land holding
position in the state is 12.5 acres for irrigated land and 17.5 acres for
non-irrigated land. The Left Front government and the CPI(M) have no intention
whatsoever of undermining this significant achievement in land reforms.
West Bengal land reforms amendment bill which was passed in the state assembly
contained amendments some of which are purely technical in nature, a few which
relate to administrative needs for better management of land and some which
rationalise the land tax provisions to benefit the people. There was only one
amendment which was substantive in nature and involved a policy question. This
was the amendment to section 14 (z) in the original act. The purpose of the
amendment was to clear the legal hurdles so that the land locked up in closed
mills, factories and industries can be put to use. According to a study
conducted in five districts around Kolkata, there are 41,000 acres of land lying
locked in closed mills, factories and sick units which are not in industrial
use. Unlocking this land could serve a number of purposes. A portion of the land
can be sold for revival of some of the sick units or for the payment of the
arrears of the employees. Further such land could also be allotted for
small-scale industries or other industrial units. Such land has been lying
unutilised for decades because of legal complications. The amendment would
enable through a written order of the state government the transfer by way of
open auction of such land at a price not less than the reserve price to be
determined by the collector, which “in the opinion of the state government is
required for the purpose of revival of the mills, factories or workshops
including the payment of the outstanding liabilities of the employees of such
mills, factories or workshops, in such manner as may be prescribed and the price
realised from such auction shall be utilised under the supervision and control
of such authority, and in such manner, as may be prescribed.”
amendment was discussed in the state secretariat of the CPI(M) and there is no
controversy or difference in the Party on this subject.
proposed amendment which would have allowed land in excess of the ceiling to be
acquired or held for purposes of establishing professional colleges,
universities, development of waste land, tourism, plantation of medicinal and
other major crops was withdrawn because neither the CPI(M) secretariat nor the
Left Front had discussed and decided on the matter.
recent years, the Left Front has seriously taken up the task of developing
industry and developing those sectors of the economy which can provide
non-agricultural employment. This requires a major effort for developing the
infrastructure and communications facilities. Along with this, growing
urbanisation and the development of the health, educational and services needs
land outside agricultural purposes.
land use policy of the Left Front government will maintain the thrust of land
reforms and retaining the present ownership structure of land used for
agricultural purposes. There will be no step taken which will undermine either
land reforms or the food security of West Bengal.
will have to be identified and acquired for the growing needs of infrastructure
development, industry, planned urbanisation and other sectors. Wasteland and
non-arable land would obviously be the main source for such usage. Acquisition
of some agricultural land would be unavoidable in certain large projects where
contiguity is also required. In such cases arable land which is mono-crop would
be provided rather than fertile multi-crop lands. Criticism of such acquisition
of land is either uninformed, or, due to the political motive of casting the
Left Front government in a bad light. There have been a number of cases in West
Bengal where land has been acquired for urban housing projects such as in
Rajarhat, Howrah and Siliguri and other projects. The procedures for such
acquisition are based on certain laws and subject to public scrutiny.
is not only in West Bengal but also all over the country that the issue of
scientific land use arises. In West Bengal, the Left Front is conscious that
there should be no indiscriminate transfer of agricultural land.
other controversy which has been raked up in the media has some connection to
the question of land acquisition. This concerns foreign direct investment and
the requirement of land connected with such projects. The CPI(M) is clear that
all FDI proposals should be seen in the light of the policy document adopted by
the 18th Party congress. The approach to FDI is explained in this document. The
flow of foreign direct investment must fulfill the following conditions: a) such
capital should augment the existing productive capacities in our economy; b)
foreign capital must upgrade the economy technologically; and c) such capital
must lead to employment generation.
The Left Front government would adopt
a case-by-case approach to each FDI proposal. The CPI(M) does not subscribe to
the dogmatic stand of certain quarters that all FDI should be opposed. At the
same time FDI flows should broadly conform to the approach spelt out in the
Any major enterprise whether it is foreign or domestically financed, being set
up in West Bengal will require land. The government will then identify and allot
land on the basis of the land-use policy set out above.
CPI(M) in its recent central committee meeting discussed these issues based on
the report presented by the West Bengal leadership. The efforts of the Left
Front to maintain agricultural growth and promote infrastructure development and
industrialisation has the support of the Party. The discussions in the central
committee have refuted the motivated propaganda that there is one line for West
Bengal and another at the national level.