Will Bengal airport project turn Mamata's own Singur?

With promoters requiring more land to relocate some electricity towers and some landowners refusing to part with their plots, Bengal’s suddenly pro-industry CM may be in a bit of a fix in days to come

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Puja Bhattacharjee | September 20, 2013



Mamata Banerjee may have finally realised that populist measures might win you votes but does not create much. So, having been a staunch critic of acquisition for industry during the Left Front administration – an opposition that helped her change the visiting card from opposition to administration – she is now gliding down the same path that she had found too rocky to walk.

Having held investors summits to invite capital to the state, a la Narendra Modi’s ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ events and even going down to Mumbai recently to woo India Inc to set up shop in Bengal, Banerjee on Thursday inaugurated a project which not only had her party opposed when the deal was inked her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s administration but also involves further acquisition of farmland, the opposition to which was among the factors that bought her the ticket to Writers’ Building.

According to a report in The Telegraph, the Rs 10,000-crore Airport City project near Durgapur has hit an unexpected wall in the form of six high-tension towers of Damodar Valley Corporation and the West Bengal state electricity transmission company. At least two towers, the report says, are on the runway of the under-construction airport and have to be removed.

Officials of Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL), a venture of local entrepreneurs in partnership with Singapore’s Changi Airport International, which is constructing the project that aims to build a township and industrial park around the new airport some 200 km from Kolkata, said they need approximately 70 acres to reposition the towers, but several owners of land on that stretch are refusing to yield.

While this may not become the Mamata government’s Achilles heel by becoming its own, postmodern version of Singur since the new land acquisition bill bars forcible acquisition, it has the potential to embarrass the government. Having earlier opposed the project, Banerjee has reportedly even threatened to derail it by building an airport in nearby Anansol. The more seemingly pragmatic version of the firebrand perennially-opposition leader, however, inaugurated the project on Thursday and rechristened the airport after Bengal’s revolutionary poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, one of Banerjee’s favourites.

Many officers have told the media on conditions of anonymity that the state government was forced to reconsider its opposition to the Airport City project since it is the only investment capable of changing West Bengal’s image as an anti-industry state in the present circumstances. Having changed her mind, something which Banerjee does with finesse and ease, she is looking forward to woo investors by showcasing this project – promoters say the airport would be up and running before Poila Baisakh (the Bengali new year) next April.

While the whole project is spread over nearly 1,980 acres in Andal area, the airport will take up about 650 acres. The rest is split among other projects – including residential projects, small industries and a logistic hub. Significantly, another report in The Telegraph says Alchemist, a group of companies owned by Trinamool Congress’s Rajya Sabha MP KD Singh, has acquired 20 acres on the project site to build a township.

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