Darjeeling’s BJP MP Raju Bista today raised questions on why initiatives had not been taken to provide long-term settlement rights for people living on railway land when the present chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, had served as the Railways minister.
The Trinamul Congress led civic board at the Siliguri Municipal Corporation (SMC) has been demanding that people living on unused railway land over the years be given land rights.
The issue has gained momentum after a massive fire destroyed houses of at least 48 families in a slum that sat on railway land at Khudiram Colony on 22 November.
The civic body has decided to issue holding numbers and possession certificates to those families. “It is railway land. The mayor has said they will build the houses and the Railways should issue the land rights for the slum dwellers. I would like to remind them that chief minister Mamata Banerjee had served at the Railways (1999-2001, 2009-2011). Had she been concerned for the people of this region, she would have easily taken initiatives. But she did not do that,” Mr Bista said.
A cheque of Rs 5,000 each was handed over to each family affected by the fire today.
“I had a long discussion with the railway minister on such land at several places. Such land issues are not only here in Siliguri, but in many other states in the country. The railways is looking into this collectively so that those who have been living on railway land over the years get the land rights and can lead their life with certainty,” Mr Bista said.
Siliguri’s deputy mayor Ranjan Sarkar, on the other hand, said Miss Banerjee has been vocal on this issue for a long time now.
“She has been demanding land rights to residents of colonies on central government land for a long time. The BJP has MPs for Darjeeling for the past 13 years at a stretch. Why did they not make any move?” Mr Sarkar said. “Though thousands of people live in slums in Siliguri, why has the West Bengal government not yet taken steps to provide them with permanent housing under the Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana (Urban)?” Mr Bista said.
He added, “When PM Narendra Modi has been repeatedly calling for the eradication of urban slums, why has the Siliguri Municipal Corporation not taken up any steps? Are they not aware that slum eradication is funded by the central government?” According to him, Siliguri has become so highly crowded that there are areas where fire engines cannot enter. “Why has the SMC not taken steps to decongest those areas?” the MP said.
BJP leaders said they raised funds to be distributed among the fire victims from Mr Bista, Siliguri MLA Shankar Ghosh, Leader of the Opposition in the WB Assembly Suvendu Adhikari and other leaders.