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WB govt’s policy to allot plots on freehold basis sparks row

A senior member of the committee refused to comment saying, “I won’t comment because the IT department looks after the matter.”

Subhendu Maiti | Kolkata |

From now investors as well businessmen can use land leased out to them for setting up of industries on freehold basis.

The Mamata Banerjee government has formed a seven-member committee headed by the chief secretary Mr H K Dwivedi to look into matter triggering serious controversy.

An order issued by the government on 3 November has asked the committee comprising additional chief secretaries (ACS) of home, housing and finance departments to “consider, examine and submit its recommendations in the matter of converting lease hold land to freehold basis.”

On conditions of anonymity, some senior bureaucrats at the state secretariat Nabanna felt that on- going acute financial crisis prompted the cashstrapped government to take the desperate move for generating funds from huge plots of leased-out lands lying unutilised with industrialists and businessmen.

It’s a contemplated shift from leasehold to freehold based on more insidious considerations, they felt. Hardly, one year after coming to power in 2011, the Mamata Banrjee cabinet had replaced the then CPI-M-led Left Front government’s policy of giving land to industrialists and businessmen on leasehold basis for commercial use.

With the formation of the seven-member committee state government decided to convert leasehold land to freehold settlements.

On the other hand, while leasehold provisions continue for the residential and small allottees in the New town area, big companies have been allowed windfall benefits in a roundabout manner. Interestingly, two big IT giants in the New Town area have already been allowed by the HIDCO authority to convert their huge plots of around 25 acres out of 50 acres land leased out to them each several years ago by the government into freehold arrangements.

Fifty acres of land was allotted to one of the two companies on long-term lease more than a decade ago for setting up of an IT SEZ.

Twenty five acres of the said land was converted to freehold by the state government on payment of a paltry Rs. 75 crore couple of years ago by the company though the price of the plot would be around Rs 750 crore as per the existing market value in the area, it is learnt.

This was apparently done on an assurance by the company of an investment “upward of 500 crore and provide direct employment to 10,000 workers and three times that number indirectly”.

This freehold land can now potentially be sold for setting up of housing, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls etc. in the guise of support infrastructure and housing for their employees.

With so many hotels, restaurants shopping malls and residential complexes in New Town in place, the logic of getting infrastructure in place for potential employees is specious to say the least.

There is no claw back provisions in the agreement that allow any punitive action by the government against the company for its failure to meet up the promise of timelines of completing the project, huge financial investments and employment generations.

A similar decision was taken in 2018 when another company, which had been allotted 50 acres of land in the same New Town area on leasehold basis during 2010 was allowed freehold status on 25 acres on similar promises of investment and employment generation.

A senior member of the committee refused to comment saying, “I won’t comment because the IT department looks after the matter.” Sources in the IT department said that none of the two companies is yet to start operations in the two project sites though more than four years have already been passed.