Vedic Village fire singes both CPM, Trinamool Cong

Written by fe Bureaus | kolkata | Updated: Aug 31 2009, 05:35am hrs
Forget Nandigram and Singur, the Vedic Village fire over alleged reckless land acquisition is likely to singe both the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress. On August 23, at least 10% of the 7-star spa at Rajarhat in South 24-Parganas was destroyed when a local mob ransacked it and set portions on fire.

The arson at the resort led home secretary Ardhendu Sen to link it to disgruntlement over land acquisition. He spoke about a land mafia and blamed the violence on it. Curiously, both the land minister Abdur Rezzak MollahSouth 24 Parganas is his hometurfa critic of the land acquisition process in the state and Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool chief who spearheaded the Singur revolt, have been silent after the Vedic Village incident. Both parties are trying their best and more to distance themselves from the main accused in the arson, Gaffar Mollah, who is absconding and is said to be one of the most "influential" land dealer in the area.

There are reports that Gaffar was close to the Trinamool Congress, after switching loyalties from the CPI(M). Trinamool leaders admit that Gaffar knew Trinamool Bhangar MLA Arabul Islam. But prior to Trinamool, Gaffar was reportedly close to land minister Rezzak Mollah, who is an MLA from Canning.

Political experts agree things weren't so complicated, at least not overtly, at Singur and Nandigram where villagers seemed more upset at prices and with the anxiety of parting with land. On the Vedic Village incident, when Banerjee spoke to a local TV channel, she emphasised on the arms and ammunition haul at the resort, not on the land deals. Mollah has called a press conference on Monday. He will have some explaining to do because when the incident happened, he dismissed it as a "private matter," but now, he finds himself under the scanner of the administration and the party.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose has demanded an explanation from Mollah. The political fallout apart, the Vedic Village incident is sure to affect business in a big way. The luxury spa that was opened in 2000 is a favourite with foreigners and at the heart of the hospitality hub emerging in the area.

On the 150-acre spa premises, promoters are building Vedic homes for the rich and famous, work on which has been stalled too.

Also in doubt is the proposed IT project on 600 acre at Rajarhat, just next to Vedic Village, on which Wipro and Infosys were supposed to set up shop. Late Saturday night, Rajkishore Modi, Vedic Realty MD and at the centre of the IT hub coming up next to the 7-star spa, was arrested.

Police interrogated Modi thrice on Saturday before arresting him. Modi was produced at the Barasat Court on Sunday. A special bench of chief judicial magistrate (CJM) SK Saha ordered a two-day police custody for Modi. While land acquisition for the entire project comes to a standstill and the plan to hand over 90 acre each to Infosys and Wipro within a few a months gets stalled, ministers are resorting to a blame game. Although state IT minister Debesh Das earlier told FE that the government would not sever ties with private promoters, on Sunday he refused to comment. He said the transfer of 600 acre from the promoters to the government free of cost of developing an IT SEZ was a state Cabinet decision and state-run Webel formulated tie-ups accordingly.

Gautam Deb, state housing minister, said he did not remember whether it was a Cabinet decision. A state finance department official told FE the first objection to the land acquisition process came from the finance department two years ago, but that the concerned officer was transferred. Later Debanjan Dutta of Webel raised objections on why the government should take land free of cost from private players who were taking land from farmers at a lower rate, sometimes at gunpoint.

According to the law, except for industries and township projects, no one can hold more than 24 acre. But state urban and urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya gave the project a status of a township for which the promoters could exceed the ceiling. Vedic Realty and Diamond Group formed a joint venture, Kolkata City Links, which was supposed to acquire 1200 acres. Kolkata City Links and state-run Webel formed another joint venture (JV), Akash Nirman, to promote an IT special economic zone on 600 acre, which according to the terms of agreement would be part of the 1200 acre, and handed over to the government free of cost.