Panagarh near Durgapur witnessed protest by 100-odd villagers, who prevented land department officials from conducting a survey for a much-needed diversion at Panagarh that has turned into a nightmare for all those traveling to and fro between Kolkata and Durgapur-Asansol. The villagers said that though they had heard about a parallel road, the district administration had not approached them directly about any proposal for land acquisition. They demanded that let the district administration first discuss the price and compensation package and then only conduct land survey.
The development of the 8.12 Km bypass at Panagarh is essential as this is the only stretch of the Delhi-Kolkata golden quadrilateral corridor which is single lane and witnesses traffic jam for most part of the day and almost all the year round. Sometimes the traffic gets hold up for several hours due to jam near the Panagarh Bazaar.
A bypass road to ease traffic has been in the pipeline for a couple of years now. The proposed 8.12 Km diversion bypass at Panagarh was sanctioned in 2009 by the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that couldn’t proceed due to constant opposition by Panagarh traders. But after much persuasion and initiatives by the then left front government, some kinds of understanding was reached. The National Highways Authority of India identified the stretch on which the bypass will be constructed and had sent a requisition for land to the state government a couple of years ago. The government then identified 25.36 acres of single-crop land for the 12 Km long bypass road that will be helpful in avoiding the bottleneck at Panagarh market.
Utpal Biswas, additional district magistrate (land acquisition), said “We have already identified land according to the demand of the NHAI and also fixed up prices for the plots, which will be highest in the state. Most of the formalities for land acquisition have already been completed and we will serve individual notices to the villagers form next month. I don’t know why the villagers said we had not approached them because we have already held several meetings with local representatives and have given advertisements in newspapers. The price was fixed up after a market survey,” Sources said the district administration has initially fixed up a price ranging between Rs 13 lakh an acre and Rs 1.04 crore an acre depending on the proximity from the road and nature of the plot. The price for the houses and trees on the land will be paid separately, they added. “This is the most lucrative package where the land losers will get the highest compensation. We are expecting to hand over the land to the NHAI by February,” said Biswas.
Krishna Dayal Karmakar, convener of Kota-Pondali-Sowai Krisijomi Adhikar Rakhsha Committee, said the farmers weren’t aware about land acquisition for the project and thus drove away the officials. “About 100 villagers of Sowai, Pondali and Kota chased away the seven officials. They want to know the land compensation rate and other details in specific. Earlier also the villagers have given away land for the upcoming fertilizer plant and proposed industrial park at Panagarh, but they are yet to get jobs and proper compensation for it,” he added.
The CPM upapradhan of Kota gram panchayat, Joydeb Mukherjee, said three mouzas – Kota, Pondali and Sowai – come under the bypass project. “The villagers of the area feel that they will get lesser rates as compared to Kanksa and thus agitated on Thursday,” he said. “About 18 acres of land have to be acquired in Sowai village, but the land owners want the state to give them the land rates and compensation package in writing,” said Kamal Barui of Sowai village.
Burdwan DM Onkar Singh Meena said the officials had gone for land acquisition under the NH Act. “Few months ago, the NHAI had published newspaper notices under section S3D of the NH Act. Though no rates have been decided yet, the villagers will get reasonable rates. Also, land cost will be determined only after hearing out each land owner and compensation is likely to be fixed on the higher end of the prevailing market rates. No forcible acquisition will be allowed and the NHAI has appointed ADM (LA) as competent authority to oversee the acquisition,” he said.
This incidence of villagers at Panagarh’s Sowai mouza chasing away National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and district land officials on Thursday puts a big question mark on Mamata Banerjee’s hands off policy in land acquisition. Singur and Nandigram agitation by farmers under the support and guidance of Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress, is now acting as a major hurdle for all land acquisition bid by government, even if it is for public utility projects like road construction.