September 5, 2008

Lives changed, by Nano and by siege


Singur, Sept. 1: Mukunda Das was a laid-back trader till the summer of 2006, rarely missing his siesta in Singur.

Then the Tata plant was born, bringing in its wake the sleep-busting jangle of money.

“On an average, I have been selling cash cards worth Rs 6,000 a day for over a year. The growth in business has been phenomenal,” said Das standing outside his store, Moumita Electronics, in Singur Bazar, which sells radio sets to cellphone top-up cards.

On Monday, a weekly off in Singur Bazar, all shops were closed and Das had slipped back to his old routine.

“Even keeping the shop open would not have helped. Sales have slumped since the siege of the Tata factory. Business is not even Rs 1,000 a day,” said Das, a staunch Trinamul supporter.

Standing under the shop’s hoarding, partially covered with signboards of several telecom companies, he spoke of the slump in earnings since work stopped at the Tata factory.

According to Das, everything changed in Singur since the arrival of the Tata plant.

The signs of change are visible across Singur, a sleepy township in Hooghly till a couple of years ago. Four new banks — State Bank of India, Axis Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and Bank of India — set up shop, nine two-wheeler stores opened, computer training centres mushroomed and consumer goods swamped the stationery shops.

Tinku Maiti, a cycle-van puller till a few months ago, would vouch that the change did not happen only in terms of creation of new avenues to spend and save.

“Our incomes have grown, too…. I earn at least Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day by ferrying passengers from the Singur station to the Tata plant,” said Maiti, standing next to his trophy — a motorised van he bought two months ago.

Maiti, son of a farmer from Ratanpur that escaped land acquisition for the Tata project by a whisker, said the increase in employment opportunity had changed the standard of living in rural Singur as well.

As the Tata Motors plant was closed for the third consecutive day, Maiti and his fellow motor van drivers — around 70 of them — had a dull day at work.

Sadai Koley of Koley Cement Syndicate, one of the biggest local suppliers of cement, sand and stone chips to the Tata plant, also had time to sit back and sift through his account books.

Koley started the hardware business seven years ago but it took off only in 2006. In two years, it has grown by over 15 times and prompted him to increase staff strength from six to 30 and buy three computers.

“I cannot understand why Trinamul supporters are against the project. Many members of the syndicates, which supply materials to the Tata plant, are Trinamul supporters,” said Koley, sitting in his office on Surendra Mullick Road in Singur.

For traders like Koley and Das, the only pitfall of the boom is rising property prices and rent in Singur.

Deed writer Ashok Chakraborty, who used to handle at least 50 property deals a month, explained how the rising property prices — around 100 per cent in less than 12 months — had affected his trade.

“People are expecting further increase and not selling land. So, I hardly write 15 to 20 deeds a month. But as our remuneration is a percentage of the value of the deal, my income has gone up.”

The rising income and easy availability of credit — other than the four new banks, Singur also has Allahabad Bank, UBI and Hooghly District Co-operative Bank — have given a boost to Singur’s economy.

“The future looks exciting as promoters are joining hands with owners of houses along Singur Bazar and Natun Bazar to develop more commercial space,” said a senior official of a public sector bank in Singur.

But he was quick to add that the growth run would halt if the Tatas decide to pull out.

highway hope

Fifty-nine trucks were allowed to pass through Durgapur Expressway in two batches on Monday — the first such movement since the Singur siege began more than a week ago. Officials said they were hopeful trucks would be allowed to ply the highway tomorrow, too.
Issue Date: Tuesday ,
September 2 , 2008,

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