The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has proposed en masse conversion of vast tracts of land classified as sali (farmland) to bastu (homestead) on the city’s southeastern fringes and Behala, paving the way for faster real estate development and triggering concerns about the impact on some of the city’s last remaining open spaces.
Mayor Firhad Hakim on Saturday said he had asked the land revenue commissioner to “automatically” convert all sali land under the corporation’s jurisdiction. It is impossible to keep agriculture land in Calcutta, Hakim reasoned, adding that the move would spare landowners harassment.
Construction is not allowed on land classified as sali, a civic source said. Conversion to bastu land is mandatory for construction but the existing procedure for the switch is cumbersome and takes several months. Land owners often need to grease a few palms in the process, the source said.
Hakim’s proposal would do away with such harassment.
“There are plots of land in wards 108 and 109 and in Behala that are classified as sali, but it is impossible to have sali land in Calcutta. I have asked the land revenue commissioner to convert all sali land in the mouzas within the CMC’s jurisdiction,” Hakim said.
Sushil Mohta, the president of Credai (West Bengal), welcomed the move. “The conversion will cut down the time to market a project and thereby bring down cost. It is a step in the direction of enhancing ease of doing business,” he said.
Legal professionals said the move may be fraught with challenges for owners of sali land as they may come up against the urban land ceiling of 7.5 cottahs. Under the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, private ownership of agriculture land is capped at 17.5 acres for irrigated areas and 24.5 acres for rain-fed areas. However, the cap is 7.5 cottah or about one-eighth of an acre in urban areas.
“We have to see how the rules are framed. But there is a possibility that such land, which now must be converted, may come under the urban land ceiling act,” a city-based lawyer said.
For environment activist Subhas Datta, the move to convert sali land is nothing short of inviting an “environmental disaster”.
“Data submitted to Calcutta High Court in 2002 said the city had less than one per cent organised open space in the form of parks and gardens. Over the years, the figure could have diminished. This would deal another blow,” he said.
Datta also expressed concern that rampant construction would prevent groundwater recharging and lead to further waste of rainwater.
“Concrete would not allow the rainwater to seep into the earth. More than 90 per cent of the city’s rainwater flows into the ocean as run-off water. Wide-scale construction would only increase the percentage,” he said.
Datta also saw in the move an “ominous sign” for the East Calcutta Wetlands, where many plots of land are classified as sali.
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