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Even before tweaking law, Dispur blessed land diversion

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  30 Sep 2015 12:00 AM GMT

In 14 years, nearly 30,000 bighas agricultural land transferred for non-agricultural purposes in 12 districts

By our Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, Sept 29: The Congress government of Assam had gone back on its own policy to get a bill passed in the last Assembly session to reclassify and transfer ‘unfit and unutilized’ agriculture land as non-agriculture land. The bill had then triggered misgivings about officially giving the official green sigl for large-scale diversion of agricultural land in a primarily agrarian state. Figures now available with The Sentinel clearly show that in the last 14 years, as much as almost 30,000 bighas of agricultural land has already been diverted for non-agricultural purposes, even when there were tough rules and regulations governing such transfers.

It was to simplify these rules and regulations for entrepreneurs and thereby give a fillip to industry, that the ‘Assam Agricultural Land (Regulation of Reclassification and Transfer for Non-Agricultural Purpose) Bill, 2015’ was passed in the monsoon session of the Assembly this year. It was pointed out that despite several policy incentives given by the State government, growth of non-agricultural activities in the State has remained sub-optimal due to lack of adequate vacant non-agricultural land, restrictions on transfer of agricultural land for non-agricultural activities and other reasons.

“Entrepreneurs are neither able to procure agricultural lands for non-agricultural activities, nor are they in a position to secure loans from banks since lands in agricultural class are not bankable for non-agricultural activities,” the bill had stated. With the ostensibly good intention of correcting this situation, the bill proposed that agricultural land not used for farming purposes in the last ten years, can with proper and sufficient justification, be transferred for non-agricultural purposes.

However, it turns out that even before this law was ected, the State government allowed diversion of significant amounts of agricultural land. Such diversion totals to nearly 30,000 bighas in only 12 districts since 2001-02, which gives a fair idea of what has been happening in the State on the whole.

As per data available, the highest agricultural land diversion amounting to 11,641 bighas has been witnessed in Cachar district, followed by the districts of gaon (5,290 bighas), Sonitpur (2,657 bighas), Dhubri (2,314 bighas), Barpeta (2,238 bighas), lbari (2,017 bighas), Kamrup (1,474 bighas), Lakhimpur (1,050 bighas), Bongaigaon (661 bighas), Golaghat (315 bighas), Goalpara (238 bighas) and Hailakandi (29 bighas).

The agricultural land in Assam now stands at 28.1 lakh hectares. The biggest apprehension is that with transfer of agricultural land much simplified by the new law, official protection of agricultural land will become a thing of the past. This will go against the focus of Central and State governments to raise agricultural production. After all, how can agricultural land shrinkage and efforts to raise agricultural productivity go together, when the pressure on increasingly fragmented farmland holdings is already so high?

Furthermore, there is the fear that a section of corrupt revenue officials will join hands with land sharks and developers, manipulating documents to prove agricultural lands to be ‘unfit and unutilized’. Such unscrupulous elements will have poor farmers completely at their mercy through money power and various pressure tactics.

A revision of the newly passed law may therefore be necessary before long, as the State government prepares to facilitate prime agricultural lands to be developed as resorts, multiplexes, residential complexes, amusement parks and golf courses, apart from industries. Experts have already pointed out that unless other negatives are addressed, merely relaxing agricultural land transfer rules is not likely to attract industry to the State on a large scale.

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