September 23, 2008

Buddhadeb voices concern over future of industrialisation

Package on offer “to protect the interests of… all sections”
N. Ram

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee gives his frank assessment of the situation in Singur to N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu —

Kolkata,22nd September: “Time is running out and if we fail to come to an agreement, the Tatas will leave this State. That is the latest situation…[which is] very difficult,” West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told The Hindu in Kolkata on Sunday.

When I asked him for an update on the discussions to resolve the Singur dispute, he said he was doing his “level best to find a solution.” The Left Front government had come up with an attractive package the idea behind which was “to protect the interests of the farmers, all sections of the people, in Singur.”

As for the mood of the people, Mr. Bhattacharjee pointed out: “If you first take the situation in Singur, out of 12,000 landowners, 10,000 handed over the land. Two thousand have still not. But even these 2,000 are not totally opposing this project. At least half of them have no papers and are absentee landlords; they have no interest to come here and take money on that. But a small section is still opposing [the acquisition], no doubt about that. But the difference is between 10,000 and 2,000. In a democracy, it is the opinion of the majority that should be taken care of.”

A week ago the Government came out with a package, which was published in all newspapers. “For the landowners who have given their land for the project,” the Chief Minister noted, “we have increased the price of the land that we have already paid. We have proposed a package for unrecorded bargadars or sharecroppers, and for agricultural workers, a package to protect their interests. And there are proposals for the many boys and girls there who have studied in schools or polytechnics and have undergone training by the Tatas and also by government polytechnics. Almost 800 boys and girls are ready to join and we are going to recruit another 800 to 1000 who will get jobs in the main factory or in the ancillaries. And they wanted a portion of land from inside the factory area. I discussed this with the Tatas and finally we proposed that we could hand over 70 acres of land from inside the factory area.”

Mr. Bhattacharjee referred to his lengthy discussion with the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, before announcing the new package. “I tried to convince her: ‘Look, for the interest of the people of Singur and for the interest of the people of the whole State, you should accept this.’”
But she had still not accepted the package and there was “almost a situation where the Tatas are really thinking whether they will be able to continue in Singur.”

The Chief Minister said he contacted Ratan Tata and requested him to “just bear with us if we take some time to convince the opposition. They are waiting but they are seriously disturbed.”

Mr. Bhattacharjee commented that “if they leave the State, it will create a serious problem in our future industrialisation process.”
Respite in Singur

The withdrawal of the siege by activists of the Trinamool Congress of the Tata Motors factory in Singur marks a tentative first step towards a satisfactory resolution of the issues relating to land acquisition and compensation that have plagued the Nano car project right from the start. That the agitators who had been protesting for two weeks in front of the factory complex, threatening to derail the car project of the Tatas, have agreed to suspend their sit-in is in itsel f a welcome development. But the limited agreement reached between West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in the presence of West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi will need to be built upon if normal work on the car project is to resume. After repeatedly upping the ante, Ms Banerjee mellowed only after the Tata Group chairman, Ratan Tata, threatened to pull out of Singur, and the factory employees continued to stay away from work. At the crux of the controversy is the fact that the owners of 305.47 acres of the 997.11 acres of land that had been acquired for the car project refused to accept the compensation offered by the government. According to the agreement that has resulted from the Governor’s intervention, the government has now referred to a committee the possibility of giving land from within the project area as compensation to those who have turned down the monetary compensation.

The committee comprising representatives of the two sides has to decide within a week the scope and the modalities of land-based compensation. Tata Motors has made it clear that its requirement is that the ancillary units should be in close proximity to the main plant to ensure the financial viability of the project. This is essential if Nano is to live up to the promise of being the cheapest car, costing only Rs. one lakh. For the farmers who have lost land to the project, the compensation demanded is in the form of land from within the project area. In such a situation, there are obvious difficulties in forging a compromise. Quite understandably, Tata Motors has pointed to the “limited clarity” on the outcome of these discussions and has said it would not resume construction or commission work at the plant unless satisfied “that the viability of the project is not being impinged.” Mr. Gandhi has done his best in bringing the warring sides to the negotiating table. Given that she claims that she wants the car project in Singur, Ms Banerjee will have to push for a meaningful solution that will not jeopardise the Nano while giving the landowners their due.

The Hindu, Editorial,10th September,2008.

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