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Conversion of land leased to Wipro raises questions

But serious questions relating to the land-lease agreement with the IT giant have been raised among some senior officials of the state IT department and the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (WBHIDCO), which functions under the Urban Development and Municipal Affairs (UDMA) department.

SUBHENDU MAITI | Kolkata |

In the first week of December, chief minister Miss Mamata Banerjee had said that the state expects to receive investments worth Rs 3,000 crore from 20 technology ventures at Bengal Silicon Valley hub in Rajarhat, mentioning that technology giant Wipro had committed an investment of Rs 500 crore on its second campus, where 10,000 jobs would be created.

But serious questions relating to the land-lease agreement with the IT giant have been raised among some senior officials of the state IT department and the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (WBHIDCO), which functions under the Urban Development and Municipal Affairs (UDMA) department.

Many officers this correspondent spoke to pointed out that Wipro was given 50 acres of land in 2009 and since then could not utilize the plot. It is not a new project.

More than one year ago, Mr Debashis Sen, chairman of the WBHIDCO, had prepared the proposal to convert 25 out of the total 50 acres leased out to the company to “free-hold”. The state Cabinet cleared the proposal several weeks ago allowing the company to use the 25 acres on ‘free-hold’ where “best in class food, wellness, emergency healthcare, essential shopping, entertainment, and other facilities” would come up. The proposal signed by Mr Sen revealed that the ‘free-hold’ plot would be used for setting up of these facilities instead of any IT project.

As a result, IT jobs might be sacrificed in the state because of this conversion, in place of which shopping centres, hotels etc would be come up, the officials felt.

They have pointed out several grey areas in the proposal for conversion of the land.

“We doubt whether this conversion has been done against the promise of investment by Wipro of Rs.500 crore and above and creation of 10,000 jobs in the IT sector directly and three times that number indirectly within three years from now,” a senior official said, while requesting anonymity.

“We are in the dark about what price has been realized from the company against this conversion of land use status. As per the information available, this conversion has been done without charging any premium from the company, entailing huge loss to the cash-strapped government. It’s also not clear whether the company would be allowed to sell the free-hold land to real estate promoters to set up ‘best in class food, wellness, emergency healthcare, essential shopping, entertainment, and other facilities’. Will these facilities be open to public or only to Wipro employees?” another official asked.

There are other questions:

If 25 acres are given on freehold for setting up of shopping centers etc., will it not be a violation of the purposes for which the land was leased out initially that is setting up of an IT project to generate employment? Also, with so many existing shopping centres and restaurants in the New Town area, was it necessary to hand over land meant for the IT industry to shopping plazas and other entertainment centres etc?

Has any premium been charged for this conversion to free-hold? If so, how much? What mechanism has the government set up to monitor whether the promised employment generation and investment materialized?

Is there any “clawback provision”, that is if Wipro does not fulfil its obligations? What will the government do? Will it take back the land or impose penalties?

On 18 December, this correspondent sent a mail to Debashis Sen seeking his reactions on these points but he did not respond. On 21 December, he responded to a WhatsApp message sent by this correspondent to him. He said, “Ask IT department or minister.”