After heated exchanges over two different West Bengal Days, the latest point of confrontation between the BJP-led Centre and the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal is alleged difficulties in land acquisition for 41 projects in the state.
In a letter to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Union Railway Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw has complained that railway projects in West Bengal are suffering due to delays in acquiring land.
“Railways had initiated efforts for acquisition for most of the sanctioned railway projects but could not succeed in acquiring land for these projects,” wrote Vaishnaw, naming 41 such projects, including new lines from Namkhana to Chandranagar, international border town Bongaon to Chandra Bazar and coastal town Digha to Egra.
“Consequently, the remaining sanctioned projects in the state could not be taken forward,” Vaishnaw added.
The Union Minister has essentially suggested that it was Bengal’s loss despite the “highest-ever budget outlay of Rs 11,970 crore allotted” for the current financial year. Concluding the letter, Vaishnaw sought “support” from the Mamata Banerjee government, asking her to issue “suitable instructions”.
Land acquisition has always remained a flashpoint in Bengal politics. As per the state’s hands-off policy on land acquisition, all entities — private investors or public sector undertakings — need to approach and negotiate directly with the landowners, prompting big industries to evaluate setting up projects in the state. Banerjee came to power first in 2011, riding on the anti-forced land acquisition movement of Nandigram and Singur, forcing a disgruntled Ratan Tata to wind up the Tata Nano project and shift to Gujarat’s Sanand.
Reacting to Vaishnaw’s letter, TMC’s Rajya Sabha MP Dola Sen told News18: “This is a classic case of ‘bahana‘ (excuse). Mr Vaishnaw should know that land acquisition is his responsibility. This is not just neglecting Bengal, but blaming it on others.”
The BJP, hitting back, accused the TMC government of setting back Bengal’s economy.
“It is tragic that once a thriving business centre, Bengal has now fallen by the way side. On an average, 30% of the registered companies have shut down with the number nearing 40% in the last two years. Thanks to a crumbling law and order, no focus on governance and a dilapidated policy framework, businesses are deserting Bengal. The same inefficiency is reflecting in execution of central government projects too,” said Amit Malviya, BJP’s co-incharge of Bengal.
This is not the first time the Railway Ministry and West Bengal government have locked horns. Soon after the Odisha train tragedy in Balasore, Mamata Banerjee and Ashwini Vaishnaw disagreed on the death toll. “I heard it can go up to 500,” claimed Banerjee, while Vaishnaw stuck to the official toll of 238.
West Bengal Day
On Thursday, the West Bengal Assembly passed a resolution to make April 15, the Bengali New Year, officially as Bengal Day. Banerjee had, last week, made it clear that the Centre’s chosen date, June 20, as the state’s foundation day is “wrong”. Now the state may end up having two West Bengal days – one picked by the state government and another by the central government.
Earlier this year, the Union Rural Development Ministry warned the West Bengal government that it will stop the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) funds sanctioned by the Centre in November 2022 if action is not taken against those allegedly trying to misuse the scheme.
In March, the Centre extended the imposition of Section 27 of MGNREGA in Bengal, which allows it to stop funds for violation of rules in implementation of the scheme by the state. But in May, Banerjee hit back, saying: “In the year 2024, the Lok Sabha poll will be held. Before that, the central government will not release funds. This is because West Bengal has put up a fight.”
Back in 2021, the state government and the Centre was at loggerheads over the transfer order of then Bengal Chief Secretary Alapan Bandyoadhyay, who had skipped a review meeting on Cyclone Yass called by PM Narendra Modi. Banerjee had asked the bureaucrat to stay put in Bengal and made him advisor to the CM as soon as he retired. The Centre then issued him a showcause notice and initiated disciplinary action.