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Bengal village incident: an eye opener for proposed Land Acquisition Bill
Last Tuesday's incident at Loba village of West Bengal's Birbhum district should act as an eye opener for the UPA government to reconsider the proposed Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, which was recently cleared by the Cabinet and modified by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

THE UPA Government may have to think twice before introducing the proposed land acquisition and relief and rehabilitation (amendment) bills in the Parliament, particularly in view of what happened in Lobo village near Dubrajpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal.

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The incident in Lobo village has clearly demonstrated the danger of land sharks and mafias fully taking over procurement of land for industrial purposes in the absence of a proper land acquisition law, which would not dilute the role of the Government.

On Tuesday, a strong contingent of police raided the Lobo village in the wee hours to cover an earthmoving machine of DVC-Emta Coal Mines Ltd., a joint venture company. The clashes took place when some landowners, who were opposing additional land acquisition for the coal-mining project under the banner of Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (Save Farmland Committee), refused to allow the police to take away the machine.

The villagers alleged that police resorted to indiscriminate lathicharge and firing in which several villagers were injured. Villagers claimed that at least four people had been injured in the police firing and they had been admitted to the district hospital.  Empty bullets of pistols and assault rifles had been recovered from the spot.

The police, Home Secretary and the Chief Minister denied firing, but said several policemen, including three officers, had been injured in the attack by the villagers, who were armed with bows and arrows and crude bombs.

Senior opposition leaders have already blamed the Trinamool Congress for diluting the role of the Government and not protecting the interests of the villagers. A spokesman of an over ground Naxalite faction alleged that a senior Trinamool Congress leader of the district and his henchmen had demanded huge sum from the farmers from the compensation package. Leaders of the Congress, the CPI (M) and the BJP supported the claim by the villagers and the Naxal faction during a debate on a local Bengali TV channel.

The UPA leaders feel that growing agitations against land acquisition will not only delay or stall industrial and infrastructural projects but also retard the country’s economic growth. The UPA Cabinet has recently approved the Amendment bill, with Congress chairperson suggesting further measures to protect the interests of the farmers.

Being alarmed by such developments, which gained momentum after the Nandigram and Singur agitations by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the UPA Government had planned to introduce the land acquisition and relief and rehabilitation (amendment) bills. But the Centre could not do so because of stiff opposition by former UPA partner Trinamool Congress.

The pull out of the Trinamool Congress from the UPA, has prompted the later to introduce the Amendment bill in the next session of the Parliament.

Observers feel that the demand of 100 per cent of acquisition of land by private promoters of any project would not only encourage the growing land sharks and mafias of the country, but also deprive the poor farmers of their legitimate dues.? “The role of the Government in land acquisition should not be diluted at any cost to save the poor farmers from the clutches of land mafias,” senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said and pointed out that the proposed amendment should give more power to the government to safeguard the interests of the farmers.?

“Any move to dilute the states’ role would be disastrous and would only encourage the land sharks and mafias,” Mr. Chakraborty observed and said the government’s role should be further increased to ensure better rehabilitation package for the poor farmers.?

“There are many instances of successful land acquisition by the states with better rehabilitation package in the country, including West Bengal. The emphasis should be on better prices and rehabilitation package,” he pointed out.?

Observers feel that time had come when the Central Government should seriously consider the creation of a national rehabilitation fund with contribution from the state exchequer and the industries and formulate a national rehabilitation package for the displaced.?

“In fact, the Centre and the State Governments should work together in creating the fund and formulating the package for the benefit of the land losers. Even the land losers can contribute to the fund a very minor portion of their earning by selling the land for a better rehabilitation package”, a senior professor of social science of a local college said.?

“Such funds and packages will not only prevent recurrence of Singur like situation, in which the Tatas were forced to abandon their project NANO, the cheapest car of the country, but also help the land losers to receive proper training and form self-help groups,” he observed.?

“Creation of such funds and better price of land will definitely reduce the tension in land acquisition, especially in the states, where land holdings are fragmented,” he pointed out.

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