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In a major breakthrough, the district administration has solved a long-pending land acquisition problem plaguing the public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation. Collector Rajendra Ratnoo has achieved this feat here today at a daylong marathon tripartite meeting, involving revenue officials, NLC management and people affected by the land acquisition. As per the agreement, the NLC management has come forward to distribute Rs 5 lakh per acre of land as compensation to the affected people. People in the peripheral villages were protesting against the NLC move to acquire land in the region where NLC had been distributing a compensation of Rs 80,000 and above for an acre. They wanted the NLC to hike the compensation as land value had increased significantly. Residents had demanded that the State Government intervene and had staged agitations on sever al occasions. Many rounds of talks between the NLC management, local residents and district administration were conducted but in vain. The president of the Federation of Cuddalore District Farmers Associations V Venkatapathi and secretary Karmangudi S Venkatesan have expressed deep gratitude to the district administration for solving the vexed issue pending for over a decade. Among others DRO Natarajan, 18 representatives from 14 peripheral villages and NLC officials including DGM (Land Acquistion) Palani have participated. TRADE UNION POLL:The stage has been set for a major battle among trade unions in the public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) on Feb 28.

Land survey taken up for construction of a Science City in Amadagur and Obuladevaracheruvu mandals in Anantapur district has become controversial. The survey works were recently handed over to the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC). Eight teams from the APIIC have taken up land survey in Amadagur mandal. While the Congress leaders are responding favourably to the survey, the Telugu Desam leaders are raising several objections. They staged a rasta roko and dharna in Amadagur two days ago, protesting against land acquisition for the project. There are 42,897 acres in Amadagur mandal with 7,000 survey numbers. There are 9,630.26 acres for 1,520 survey numbers in Tummala village, 1,568.83 acres of land in Yerigivaripalle and a similar extent of land in Pulukuntapalli. Survey is also being taken up in Lokojupalli, Karimireddypalli, Dademvaripalli, Amadagur, Sikirevulapalli, Chinaganipalli, Kassamudram, Mahmadabad, J.K.Palli, Koragattupalli and other villages. Congress leaders say that most farmers are ready to sell their lands while TD leaders deny this.

The Himalayan Policy Campaign Committee, an umbrella organisation of various environmental groups, voluntary organisations and NGOs based in the Himalayan region has requested the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Rural development to defer the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007 and Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007. The committee while giving certain suggestions to be incorporated in the Bills has demanded that specialist NGOs and peoples groups on environmental issues should also be consulted. The governing body of the HPCC in a representation to the Chairman of Standing Committee Mr. Kalyan Singh has demanded that the Land Acquisition Act should be repealed since it leads to a disruption in the eco-systems. And when the ecosystems are damaged, destroyed or altered, it affects not only the communities and their livelihoods in the immediate vicinity but also downstream communities. Corporate rights The HPCC while raising the issue of corporate rights versus community rights said the later should be given preference since it is the community which was dependent on the natural resources and has natural rights on them from the time immemorial. Increasingly governments around the world are treating the notion of objectives of corporations as equal to national interest. This is grossly incorrect, says the HPCC. Any project that is decided on the merit of profit cannot be in national interest but in the interest of shareholders of a corporation. Therefore, national interest should be restricted to only security concerns, demanded the NGO. The HPCC is objecting to rampant construction of hydro electric projects in Himachal Pradesh and other hill States from a long time now.

The state government has said the Centre has been satisfied with the outcome of the public hearing regarding the Mangalore special economic zone (MSEZ) and a final meeting on the crucial environmental management plan (EMP) of the project has been fixed for February 28. "If we get the approval after the Thursday's hearing, work can start on the project,' Karnataka Governor's advisor Krishna Kumar informed Deccan Herald. The meeting will be held by the technical committee of the Expert Committee for Infrastructure Development and Miscellaneous Project, set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The farmers have been opposing the acquisition of land. They have urged the Government to reject the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report on the project. According to the advisor, a total of 1,750 acre, out of the 2500 acre needed for the SEZ, has already been acquired. "The government has issued notification for 300 acre for acquisition. We are discussing the issue with the farmers,' he added. On the public hearing, Krishna Kumar said the Union ministry has prepared the report on the EIA of the project and circulated it to the gram panchayats. "The GPs wanted the copies in Kannada and we have translated and given these copies. The ministry has concluded that the public hearings were held as per law. The meetings were held in January and February. Now the technical committee will hear the EMP. If we get the approval after the meeting, we can start work on the project. We have come a long way in the last 2-3 months regarding this multi-product SEZ,' Kumar stated. Promoters The Rs 35,000 crore SEZ is being set up by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) as anchor co-promoter using a special purpose vehicle owned by its subsidiary Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), which will hold a 46 per cent stake. The other equity-holders are the Karnataka Government, Kanara Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Limited. ONGC would hold 26 per cent of the equity in the incorporated company. The State government would hold 23 per cent and the balance 51 per cent would be jointly owned by KCCI and IL&FS. The New Mangalore Port Trust (NMPT) is understood to have shown interest to join the SEZ, subject to approval from the Ministry of Shipping, Road and Transport. If NMPT joins, the combined equity of KIADB and NMPT would be 23 per cent. The MRPL has envisaged projects such as an LNG terminal, C2-C3 separation units and aromatic and olefin complexes in the petrochemical component of the SEZ. The SEZ will also include a refinery, a power plant, a gas terminal and a pipeline.

Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) has selected 1,000 acres of land for setting up an special economic zone in order to attract investment especially from the non-resident Sylheties. The special economic zone, adjacent to Fenchuganj-Tamabil Bypass Road Link, will provide land and other infrastructural facilities to the entrepreneurs to set up manufacturing and other industrial units. "We will submit the proposal to the government for acquiring the land,' said SCCI President Junnun Mahmud Khan. He said the chamber has completed a feasibility study on setting up a special economic zone or an industrial park in Sylhet division from where a large number of expatriates are living mainly in the UK and USA. The SCCI has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the British-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BBCCI) in 2006. Under the deal, the BBCCI will bring together the non-resident Sylheties to invest in the economic zone. It is expected that 65 percent land of the zone will be provided to the expatriates. According to the feasibility study, Sylhet has available land, abundant natural and forest resources to set up an economic zone or industrial park. There is an ample scope to increase production of various agricultural commodities. In Sylhet division, there is also scope to increase fish production through undertaking aggressive programmes and activities. Sylhet has economically significant storage of minerals for industrialisation. Natural gas, limestone, sand stone and sand, glass sand and coal are available in this region. Some supports should be provided to the non-resident Sylheties to encourage investment. The supports include investment security, one-stop services cell for registration, licensing and regulatory formalities, prompt and easy access to physical infrastructure like plots and utility connections, access to institutional support for identification of the reliable and good local partners, strong access to business support services such as banks, insurance and shipping, easy access to reliable expert and consulting services, access to amenities and recreation facilities, and cargo shed and jet fueling station in Sylhet airport, the study said. In the economic zone, there will be scope for establishing power plants, agro processing units, re-rolling mills and steel casting mills, said Nasim Hussain, senior vice-president of SCCI. As the seven sister states of India are very near from Sylhet, the entrepreneurs or the investors will have an easy access to the seven sisters to export their products, he said. "We are hoping to get a huge response from the Sylheti expatriates,' he added. Sarwar@thedailystar.net

Land Policy Is the Asom Government violating its own land policy resolutions by taking up a policy of giving settlement of Government khas agricultural and ceiling surplus lands to the industrial workers ignoring the interest of the indigenous people of the State? By our Staff Reporter GUWAHATI, Feb 21: This question has been raised by the Purbanchal Nagarik Samity (PNS), an apex body of various citizens' fora of upper Asom. The PNS is of the view that such a calculated step on the part of the State Government to deprive the indigenous agricultural workers has been motivated by its desire to appease the tea garden workers so as to get their support. Even though Asom has 69 lakh acres of agricultural land and 1.35 lakh acres of ceiling surplus land acquired till 1975, about 2.29 lakh agrarian families are completely landless and homeless, while 1.8 lakh families are with less than eight bighas of land and 2.86 lakh families are with less than five bighas of land till September, 1969. This was stated in the resolution of the Government Land Policy, 1972 published on July 21, 1972. According to the citizens' bodies, the State Government itself admitted in its policy paper in 1975 that the problem of landless cultivators was increasing day by day, while in the Government Land Policy of 1989 the Government lamented that during the last 16 years land settlement could not be given to genuine beneficiaries. Thus the Government has recommended for settlement of ceiling surplus lands to agriculturists expeditiously, they pointed out. "Although the State Government, in its 1989 Land Policy, banned the transfer of agricultural lands to non-agriculturists and industries, the Government itself has with impunity been violating its own land policy resolutions and taken up a policy of allotting Government khas agricultural and ceiling surplus lands to the industrial labourers since 2001,' the PNS resolution said. It also said that to expedite such settlement of land, the Government had also formed high-power committees in each district in March, 2007. "However, the poor indigenous agriculturists are left at the mercy of God even during calamities, with more than two lakh families being landless and homeless, and their number increasing every passing day,' said the resolution adopted at a meeting of the PNS in Dibrugarh. Though the land policy of 1968 itself declared a ban on transfer of agricultural lands to non-agriculturists, which was also repeated in the Land Policy Document of 1972, the Government officials have started issuing circulars to allot land to ex-tea garden workers, said Ajoy Baruah, joint secretary of the PNS and general secretary of the Dibrugarh Nagarik Sangha, while talking to The Sentinel. In this regard, Baruah pointed out the land policy adopted by the State Government in 1989 (published in the Assam Gazette on August 23, 1989), where it has been clearly stated: "All allotment of land for ordinary cultivation will be made with the indigenous landless cultivators, that is the persons who actually cultivate the land themselves.' The PNS further said the industrial labourers, who are neither contributors nor beneficiaries, and not residents of revenue villages, have been injudiciously included in the Panchayati Raj system. The PNS is of the opinion that such a step has further complicated the very concept of the Panchayati Raj. The apex body of the upper Asom citizens' fora, in an initiative to mobilize public opinion against the alleged injudicious policy adopted by the State Government, has taken a move to hold a State-level convention in association with the Asom Jatiya Mahasabha and the Senior Citizens' Council of Guwahati.

Officials who procured land for construction of a canal under the Handri-Neeva Sujala Sravanti (HNSS) project at Gargeyapuram village in the mandal, refused to pay compensation for about 50 acres, saying that it was government land. Mr Ravindra Reddy, a farmer, said their elders had purchased about 50 acres in the village about 40 years ago. He said officials had given pattadar passbooks for the lands and they had taken bank loans using them. Mr Ravindra Reddy said eight other farmers were also cultivating the land. He said officials had paid Rs 95,000 per acre as compensation to other farmers in the village whose lands were acquired. Mr Ravindra Reddy said officials had promised to give them similar compensation and after three years told them that no compensation would be given. He said farmers, who were cultivating the lands, had no other land and didn't know how to repay their bank loans. Mr Ravindra Reddy said they had been paying land tax for the lands for the last 40 years. He said officials were also refusing to pay compensation being given to those cultivating government land to them. Mr Ravindra Reddy said they would search for alternate livelihood if compensation was paid to them and warned that they would have to commit suicide along with their family members if aid was denied.

Gram panchayat members of 19 villages have demanded that the compensation for land acquisition be increased from Rs.75 lakh per acre to Rs.2 crore. At a meeting organised by senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vijay Goel at Alipur here, it was pointed out that the Delhi Government had increased the compensation from Rs.25 lakh per acre to only Rs.75 lakh per acre in the last ten years, "even though the market price in these areas had gone up to Rs.3 crore per acre'.

The Supreme Court has passed a ruling directing the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to acquire 1.50 acres of land from plot no 438 in Salisbury Park, which had been reserved in the 1966 as well as the 1987 Development Plan (DP) for the purpose of developing a garden and playground. However, the civic administration had preferred to stay away from the acquisition citing "paucity of funds' as reason. The landowners had served the PMC a purchase notice for failing to acquire the land within the designated time.

Speakers at a view exchange meeting yesterday called on the authorities to evict land grabbers from about 300 bighas of land at Rajpur in Lalmonirhat and return them to the genuine owners. They also called for stern action against the illegal encroachers. Rajpur Char Land Recover Committee organised the meeting at Cirdap auditorium in the capital, with Shudhir Chandra Mohonto, convenor of the committee and a former union parishad chairman, in the chair. A booklet titled 'Roktakto Rajpur' was also launched at the programme. Eminent economist Prof Muzaffer Ahmad, former adviser to the caretaker government Sultana Kamal, University Grants Commission Member Prof AHM Zihadul Karim, Assistant Professor Abdur Rob of Jahangirnagar University, FEMA President Munira Khan, ActionAid Country Director Farah Kabir and representatives of Rajpur char dwellers spoke at the programme, moderated by Bidhan Chandra Pal of The Hunger Project. Expressing their shock at the land grabbing incident during this government, the speakers criticised the local administration for their inaction and demanded withdrawal of false cases filed against the real owner of the char lands. They also urged all to unite to launch a social movement to protect the char dwellers across the country. Representatives of the char dwellers alleged that a well-connected political leader in collusion with the local police administration has grabbed at least 300 bighas of char land in Rajpur. His men also tortured the real owners of the land when they refused to hand over their land to him, they added.

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