Pranesh Sarkar, TT, Calcutta, March 13: Around 100 farmers have veered off the beaten track in Bengal and urged the state government to acquire their land for widening a national highway.
The silver bullet: a prospective price far higher than the market rate - something economist Amartya Sen had suggested during the Singur debate.
The highway is NH81, which connects the Northeast to the rest of the country through Bengal and Bihar.
The state government had realigned the three bypasses through which NH81 will be widened, bringing down the land requirement from 229 acres to 209 acres after the Union ministry of road transport and highways pointed out that the cost of land acquisition was exceeding that of the project.
The 100-odd farmers in Malda's Malatipur, Chanchol and Samsi, whose land is part of the 20 acres the government saved, approached the administration and requested that their plots be acquired.
"Many farmers approached us saying they wanted their land to be acquired for the project. We could not give them any assurance as the decision to realign the bypasses was taken on the instructions of the Centre. We have informed the state government of the demand," an official said in Malda.
Land for national highways is acquired under the National Highways Act, which offers compensation on a par with the Centre's new land acquisition act that came into effect from January 1, 2014. The Bengal government hasn't yet adopted the central act. Several state projects have been halted because of the unwillingness of farmers to sell land at "inadequate" prices.
The Bengal government buys land directly for its projects and pays a maximum of 1.5 times the market price.
On the other hand, both the 1956 and the 2014 acts offer up to four times the market rate of the land in rural areas and at least twice the market rate in urban areas.
In areas earmarked in Malda, the market rate per acre is Rs 75 lakh. The compensation package will be Rs 3 crore an acre.
"I have urged the district officials to acquire my land because I will never get such a price if I want to sell my plot for any other purpose," said a farmer in Samsi who did not want to be named.
In July 2007, a little over a year before the Tatas pulled out of Singur, Sen had told The Telegraph: "While the compensation paid is greater than the value of the land seen as agricultural land, the compensation paid by the government is less than what the value would have been had it been free for competition with industries. If you are part of the market economy, then you have to take into account what the value of the land would have been had it been freely available for industry."
Under the Singur package offered by the then Left government, a farmer would have hypothetically received Rs 142 at the most if the price of an acre had been Rs 100.
The Malda package offers Rs 400 for an acre hypothetically priced Rs 100.
"It may be early to assume that the Malda phenomenon will be repeated elsewhere but it suggests the state government should explore the option of higher compensation," a senior land department official said.