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Tea garden land-grab slur against John Barla, two former Darj BJP MPs

TIPA secretary MK Maitra has alleged the involvement of two former Darjeeling MPs of the BJP, Jaswant Singh and SS Ahluwalia, in the land encroachment. The Jalpaiguri DM has ordered an inquiry into a plot of leasehold land meant for a tea plantation allegedly grabbed by the Union Minister of State, John Barla

MANAS R BANNERJEE | Siliguri |

Terai Indian Planters’ Association (TIPA) has written to the Darjeeling district Magistrate, seeking action against encroachment of leasehold land meant for tea plantation areas in Darjeeling Hills.

In the letter sent to Darjeeling DM S Ponnambalam, TIPA secretary MK Maitra has alleged involvement of two former Darjeeling MPs of the BJP, Jaswant Singh and SS Ahluwalia, in the land encroachment. Mr Maitra has urged the DM to “recover” the encroached land of the Kanchan View Tea Estate, also known as the Rungeet Tea Estate, between Lebong and Darjeeling, while he has also pointed out that the Jalpaiguri DM has ordered an inquiry into a plot of leasehold land meant for tea plantation allegedly grabbed by Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs John Barla, a BJP MP from Alipurduar.

“We will look into the matter,” Darjeeling DM S Ponnambalam said when asked to comment on the matter today. It may be noted here that as Trinamul Congress leaders expressed doubts about the educational qualification of Cooch Behar’s BJP MP Nisith Pramanik and even his citizenship, a group of former BJP leaders in Alipurduar, presently TMC leaders after the Assembly elections, has alleged that Mr Barla has grabbed the leasehold land and constructed a concrete building where he lives.

Significantly, Mr Barla is mum on the issue. When contacted today, Mr Barla’s personal assistant, A Bhujel, said that the MP would not comment on the matter. “There is no question of encroachment of land. But the question is residents of the tea belt do not have land rights. A wrong message will be aired if that building is demolished,” Mr Bhujel said.

According to the TIPA, the present owner of Kanchan View Tea Estate is a perpetual lessee of 401 acres of land comprising the estate by way of inheritance since 1962 and that a renewed lease was granted in the year 2007 in favour of one Ajit Kumar Agarwala.

Notably, the present management was not in possession of the Tea Estate between 1980 and 2003 when it was being run by the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation Ltd, and thereafter by the Joint Special Officers of the High Court of Calcutta. During the period of Joint Special Officers, the Tea Estate was being run by one MS Maan, a man from Punjab brought by the then Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh, according to the TIPA.

“At the behest of the said Member of Parliament, one Aditya Rai (no way connected with the Kanchan View Tea Estate) was allowed to encroach on a big plot of land and make a three-storied house, which was used for political activities of Mr Jaswant Singh, the MP,” the letter says.

Significantly, the letter also points out that during the period of MS Maan’s possession and Jaswant Singh as the MP, “lots of encroachments have taken place at various plots of leasehold land at Kanchan View Tea Estate and these are still continuing.”

On the other hand, based on the letter written by the present manager of the estate, Atul Rana, TIPA secretary Mr Maitra said: “The said Aditya Rai was patronized thereafter by SS Ahluwalia, the then Member of Parliament Darjeeling between 2014-2019 and the house of Aditya Rai was used for various political purposes of the said Member of Parliament Mr SS Ahluwalia.”

Now the MP from Bardhaman-Durgapur, Mr Ahluwalia, told this correspondent today: “Who is Aditya? I don’t know him. Everyone knows I was in Little Tibet Hotel in Darjeeling for election campaigning. Being an MP, I was in a rented house on Hermitage Road in Darjeeling and at Barsana in Siliguri.”

Plantation sources said that the management of Kanchan View Tea Estate had planned to set up a resort there for tea tourism, but that a group of BJP workers allegedly prevented the management from building the project there.

The TIPA has urged the DM to conduct a “complete reconnaissance survey” of the Tea Estate leasehold land through the office of the land reforms department in Darjeeling and if need be, “they shall surrender their leasehold land under encroachment to the government of West Bengal (lessor) after being compensated for the same or otherwise, for the overall interest of all concerned so that the age-old tea industry of this area struggling for its existence can healthily survive.”