The Golden Quadrilateral project appears to have turned into a goose that lays golden eggs for some as allegations have surfaced about anomalies of around ₹100 crore in disbursement of compensation for the land acquired for the project in a West Bengal district.
Several aggrieved farmers whose land were acquired by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) for the expansion of the National Highway 31 D into a four lane in Alipurduar district have now moved court seeking “justice”.
The project is part of the east-west corridor to link Surat in Gujarat with Silchar in Assam through the chicken-neck corridor in West Bengal.
The alleged irregularity came to light after an organisation of the affected landowners did a cross-verification of a list published by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in a Bengali daily in November last year, notifying compensation paid against the project.
“After months of painstaking scrutiny and correspondences with the NHAI, the nodal body for the implementation of the highway expansion project, we recently found several discrepancies and mismatch in the claim and actual compensation that has been disbursed,” said Ratan Roy, the secretary of the Krishi Bastu Sangram Committee (KBSC), the organisation floated by the land losers.
For the project, 1.39 acres (139 decimals) of land were acquired.
“The ministry claimed to have disbursed ₹154 crore at an average rate of around ₹1.20 lakh per decimal to over 500 families in five mouzas against the highway project in Alipurduar Block II. But as per our calculation made after cross checking with the land owners, only around ₹50 crore have been received by them (landowners) collectively,” Roy said.
Most landowners claimed that the actual amount received by them is much less than the amount the government claimed to have disbursed to them.
One such land owner is Sabita Roy. Her land measuring 10 decimals at Chengpara in the Alipurduar Block II was acquired for the project.
Roy alleged that as per the list, published by the ministry last year, a compensation of ₹17,72,755 was claimed to have been paid to her against the 10 decimals of land acquired from her.
“However, in reality and according to my bank passbook, only an amount of ₹11,01,567 has been transferred to my accounts,” she said. Sabita says she is yet to get the balance amount of ₹6,11,188.
Challenging the disbursement claim made by the ministry, she moved a writ petition at the Jalpaiguri circuit bench of the Calcutta High Court earlier this month.
An “affidavit in objections” was filed by the NHAI official and others to counter the writ petition.
In the affidavit, it was claimed that apart from the amount Roy claimed to have received, another tranche of ₹5,67,746.62 was paid to her on September 16, 2020, her advocate Niladri Sen said.
On further inquiry, it was found that the said amount was transferred to an account (No. 36030384766) of her namesake with an SBI branch in Bongaigaon in Assam, Sen added.
After the stunning revelation, Sabita lodged a written complaint with the DGP of West Bengal and other senior police officials including Superintendent of Police Alipurduar.
In the complaint, Sabita alleged that it came to her knowledge that the said amount was withdrawn by one Sukumar Karmakar, “impersonating himself” as her father and showing her as dead.
Several calls made to the NHAI’s Siliguri office (0353-2540565) went unanswered. But documents accessed by The Federal revealed that the NHAI has now pushed the ball to the court of the Jalpaiguri district administration.
“… It is to inform you that your matter is related to land acquisition compensation. Hence, the same grievance is being forwarded to special land acquisition officer Jalpaiguri for further necessary action,” NHAI’s project director Sanjeev Kumar Sharma told the aggrieved land owners in a letter.
On his part, Pinaki Sengupta, the special land acquisition officer at the Jalpaiguri District Magistrate’s office has asked the inspector-in-charge of the Kotwali police station, Jalpaiguri to investigate Sabita Roy’s complaints.
There are many such anomalies and irregularities in the payment of compensation which should be probed, said Ratan Roy of the KBSC.