Land acquisition row escalates in West Bengal

Precarious times before Bengal Global Business Summit

Business & Politics

News - India & You

January 18, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

Bhangar in West Bengal has been facing turbulent times

Bhangar in West Bengal has been facing turbulent times

West Bengal government has landed itself in hot water over land acquisition for a power grid project at Bhangar in suburban Kolkata. The violent protests, reminiscent of Nandigram and Singur, have come at an awfully wrong time as the state gets ready to host the Bengal Global Business Summit.

The Bhangar area in the South 24 paganas district of West Bengal is turning increasingly strained, with locals raising the issue of land acquisition for a power project. The project, a central government initiative through the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, saw opposition back in 2013 when 13 acres of land was reportedly acquired from farmers. The main demand of the agitation remains return of the land to the respective farmers and also a halt to the project. The recent violent turn to the protests comes at a time when West Bengal is hoping to attract investments through its upcoming Bengal Global Business Summit.

There has been resistance by many farmers to the project for some time now, and has escalated in the past six months. Farmers claim that the market value of the land acquired was not provided to them, and the land was reportedly forcibly acquired from some. Some have even pointed out the environmental impact if the plant is built. The agitation turned bloody over the past few days, which happened after an activist, allegedly a leader of the movement, was detained by the police on Monday. He was later released. Police vehicles had been torched, and local media reported the death of two protestors and injury to many, owing to police firing yesterday, after clashes between police forces and locals were underway since the morning. The police, however, deny opening fire on the agitators.

Political tangles

Opposition parties sharply criticised the government for its alleged incapability of handling the situation. Mamata Banerjee, the current chief minister of the state, had been at the forefront of anti-land acquisition movements in the past, like in case of Nandigram and Singur before she was elected to power. Many political analysts have attributed her role in these protests as catapulting her to popularity which led her party, Trinamool Congress, to a landslide victory in 2011, obliterating the Communist regime of 34 years in West Bengal.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been under attack by CM Banerjee recently for implementing the controversial demonetisation policy, was quick to comment. BJP leader Dilip Ghosh told ANI that since the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government came to power, violent and terrorist activities in the state have increased. “It is not only Bhangar. Since the TMC government came to power, the violence and terrorist activities in the state have increased. Because of their inefficiency, all these things are happening. I think things will get even worse in the days to come,” he remarked.

Speculations are rising over the movement, with some claiming that ‘outsiders’ may be involved rather than the locals themselves. The Power Minister of the state, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay informed a national newspaper that CM Banerjee was made aware of the unrest. “Work on the project was stopped two weeks ago. When their demands were already being considered, why the fresh violence? This needs to be investigated,” he stated. TMC issued a statement which it later retracted, stating that the power grid would be relocated if required.

The opposition party in the state, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also reacted. “The police acted on the orders of the chief minister who herself had organised movements against land acquisition during the Left regime. But, now she is busy organising global business summits,” said CPI-M state secretariat member, Md. Salim.

Business at risk

Even as the third edition of the Bengal Global Business Summit is approaching, there are concerns over West Bengal’s image as a conducive destination for investment with movements such as these coming up. The summit, to be held over January 20-21, has seen participation from over 25 countries in the past, including the US, France, the UK and Germany. The summit aims to bring together policy makers, corporate leaders from around the globe, delegations, academia and opinion makers to explore business opportunities, forge partnerships and collaborations.

Sunil Kanoria, the President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) & Vice-Chairman, SREI Infrastructure Finance Ltd, had stated, “The Bengal Global Business Summit has evolved as an annual flagship event for showcasing Bengal’s potential and inviting investment proposals.”

The power grid project, as proposed, was to provide power to Rajarhat in the outskirts of Kolkata among other places, and is quite close to completion. The immediate effects and consequent actions of the agitation remain to be seen. The state is hoping to increase inflow of investment, particularly in the manufacturing sector and the upcoming summit can prove to be an important anvil on which West Bengal’s investment fortune hinges on.



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