'Willing' voices for hospital

Jan. 10: The National Highways Authority of India in early 2011 had approached the state government to acquire land in North Dinajpur's Panishala, just off Raiganj, so that it could widen NH34.

But the Left Front government, by then battered and bruised over the land issue, did not take any initiative to acquire the land. It merely carried out a survey to assess its price.

But even if it had done so, it would have faced a wall of resistance from a group of 84 farmers who between them own more than 100 acres beside the national highway, 8km from Raiganj.

"From the time that the central government announced that it would set up an AIIMS-like hospital in Raiganj in 2009, we have been willing to sell our 100 acres so that the institute could come up here," said Rafiq Ajam, who heads a committee recently christened "AIIMS-er Jonye Jamidane Ichhuk Krishak Committee (Willing Farmers who want to give land for AIIMS)".

But he said that if the government wants to acquire their land to widen the highway, it would first have to meet their conditions.

"We have made it clear that we would agree to part with our land for widening the highway only if the government first buys our land to set up the AIIMS-like institute," said Rafiq.

It is this 100 acres owned by the 84 "willing" farmers that Congress MP and Mamata Banerjee-baiter Deepa Das Munshi keeps referring to in her public meetings.

"There are these farmers in Panishala who are willing to sell their land for the AIIMS-like hospital. So it is mere selfish politics that is preventing the institute from coming up here," Deepa told The Telegraph in October last year in Raiganj, her constituency. "In Raiganj, there is no question of forcible acquisition of land that the chief minister keeps referring to."

The state government wants to build the AIIMS-like hospital in Kalyani, Nadia, because it has vested land there.

The Telegraph visited Panishala recently and spoke to over 10 land owners about the proposed hospital. All said that they would sell their land "happily" because Raiganj ' and the entire district ' sorely needed a speciality hospital and, for them, farming was becoming "unprofitable".

Mahaboob Alam, another Panishala farmer, said: "The land in Panishala is low-lying and highly fragmented. Other than a couple of farmers, the rest of us are small landholders. Besides, the land here is low-lying and remains flooded for long periods. So, we get at best two crops a year ' paddy in monsoon and wheat in winter. The costs don't work out for us. We would be better off selling it."

N.T. Taso Lepcha, additional district magistrate, land reforms, said: "When we had carried out a survey in early 2011 on the market price of the land in Panishala, we found out that it would be around Rs 50 lakh if it was on the national highway and Rs 40 lakh if it is in the interiors."

Naba Kanta Burman, the panchayat pradhan of the Congress-run Sitgram village, under which Panishala is a mouza, said that farmers who are willing to give up their land would benefit "tremendously" if they could sell it for the AIIMS-like hospital.

"Not only will they get money for their land, they are hoping that they would get jobs when the hospital comes up," Burman said.

However, North Dinajpur district magistrate, P.N. Bhutia, said that ever since he had assumed charge there has been no instruction from the government regarding acquisition of land for constructing the hospital.

"We have not received any instructions regarding land for an AIIMS-like hospital here," Bhutia said.

Bhutia had taken charge as the DM soon after the Mamata Banerjee government came to power in May 2011.

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