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Call to scrap DI Fund; settlers’ woes mount

Statesman News Service | Siliguri |

The Darjeeling Improvement (DI) Fund has been accused of maintaining “double standards” despite the several reminders given to the state government on bringing tracts of land, which are still under the British-era DI Fund, under the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Act.

Visibly upset, permanent settlers in the Naxalbari area, which is under the DI Fund since the British era, have started talking about their fate, even as Chief Minister Miss Mamata Banerjee presently tours Darjeeling. Settlers in Naxalbari had also submitted a prayer to the CM on 14 June 2017, demanding that the Fund be scrapped and the plots of land leased be brought under the land reforms Act.

Notably, around two dozen mouzas in both Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts are still under the local DI Fund management, despite the land reforms in Bengal. Along with the people of Naxalbari, lessees in Kalimpong, the newlyformed district, are also facing many technical problems due to this.

Sources said the Kalimpong district magistrate discussed the issue with the Commissioner, Jalpaiguri division, last year. A former executive, who dealt with the DI Fund management, PK Ganguly, branded it as ‘anomalous.’

Officials, associated with the DI Fund, have been allegedly involved in financial scams “because the land revenue never finds entry into the consolidated fund of the state,” sources said. “Permanent settlers or lessees, who renew lease agreement on the basis of the notice they get, have to pay a yearly lease premium of Rs 16,000 to Rs 25,000 for a specific plot of land.

For those who are yet to renew the agreement, they are allowed to deposit only Rs 10 or Rs 20 as yearly lease premium for the same measure of land since 1992. This is surprising, shocking and against public interest,” said one of the settlers, Manoj Kumar Prasad, who is also a law expert.

Sources said that the local management, popularly known as the ‘Haat Babu’ in Naxalbari area issues notices to stop construction of buildings on the land and asks them to renew the lease at the rate of four per cent of the total value of land. The local DI Fund managers ascertain the value of the land at the rate of Rs 95 per square feet, sources said.

“The so-called permanent lessees under the DI Fund are already converted into Raiyat under the state. The inhabitant obtained the status or Raiyat since the West Bengal Acquisition Act came into force. In spite of that, the authority is unlawfully and illegally continuing the socalled rules of the DI Fund,” Mr Prasad claimed.

Notably, inhabitants of the undivided Darjeeling Hills had formed a committee named “Kalimpong Raiyat Welfare Association” and filed a case in the West Bengal Land Reforms and Tenancy Tribunal ( LRTT) against the state and other authorities to resolve the problem.

Significantly, sources said that the Judge of the LRTT passed an order on 18 May 2006 and directed the state government authorities to work under the provisions of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act. The judge’s observation was that all actions taken being taken by the DI Fund authorities were breach of provisions of the State Acquisition Act 1953 and the West Bengal Land Reforms Act 1955.