Calcutta, Nov. 15: The Mamata Banerjee government has begun to explore the possibility of modifying a land-ceiling clause to accommodate some concerns of industry.
If the proposals are accepted, more industries will be exempt from the land-ceiling rule and transfer of land acquired for setting up industry would be allowed without diluting the new government's hands-off policy.
The land and land reforms department has sent a letter to four departments — commerce and industries, urban development, micro and small-scale industries and food processing — seeking their suggestions on amending Section 14Y of the West Bengal Land and Land Reforms Act, 1955.
The act grants exemption from the land ceiling to certain categories of industry. But since the act was drafted long ago, it had confined itself to "factories, mills and workshop" with no room for new-age ventures in information technology and biotechnology.
"We need to tackle two issues. First, more sectors need to be included so that industrial parks can come up. Our government plans 17 such parks for various sectors across the state to provide good, readily available infrastructure. Now many of them will be done in public-private partnership model. But then private promoters should be allowed to sell to smaller units. If they again need government permission, who will come?" industries minister Partha Chatterjee said.
The proposals will eventually have to be cleared by the state cabinet but this is the first time the new government is making an attempt to review clauses related to land.
Section 14Y was in the news recently when the government vested a portion of land from the Jindals and later regularised it.
However, the new initiative so far appears to have skipped one key concern of industry that wants the leeway to seek exemption under 14Y after the acquisition, not before as the clause now demands.
According to 14Y, land in excess of the ceiling can be held only to establish a tea garden, mill, factory or workshop, livestock breeding farm, poultry farm, dairy or township.
"This law was drafted when industries like IT and biotech were unknown. The section needs to be re-drafted," said an official who added that some of the changes being discussed now were explored by the previous government, too. "But the then land department did not agree to it," he added.
"This is an attempt to create an enabling environment for business. Recently, we got some proposals from industrial houses but they cannot materialise unless we expand the scope of 14Y," another official said.
Of the four departments that received the letter, commerce and industries welcomed the idea of amending 14Y.
"We have received proposals from reputable firms for establishing biotechnology parks and food processing parks. But nothing can be done until these sectors are brought under the purview of 14Y," an official said.
The food processing department has sought seven more days to send its suggestions.
The land department is also working on ways to transfer the land acquired for industry using the same clause. This suggestion has come from the urban development department in response to the letter.
"What is the point in building townships and buying land if they cannot be transferred? We are working out ways so that a particular area acquired and held for industry can be transferred to a different person or a company," an official said.
Sources said the chances of permission to lease the land were brighter than that for outright sale.
"The new government says it will not acquire land. If we are to buy on our own, the government should facilitate the process by amending sections like 14Y," said an industrialist.