On the one hand are big ticket investors like Sajjan Jindal, whose JSW Steel is putting in Rs 35,000 crore to build a 10-million tonne steel plant in phases at Salboni in West Midnapore district, and Venugopal Dhoot of Videocon, who has lined up at least Rs 15,000 crore for a clutch of projects. Jindal and Dhoot have had no problems with land acquisition. Jindal’s land requirement was five times that of Tata Motors and although most of it was vested land, he did have to buy around 500 acres from villagers. On a recent visit to Kolkata, Dhoot said: “He (Tata) has to settle it.
This is a small matter…He has to settle with the farmers.” Dhoot pointed out that West Bengal is not dependent on any specific project. Then, there are investors like the Salim Group of Indonesia, whose clutch of mega infrastructure projects with a total land requirement of 28,450 acres, has been put on hold after the Nandigram violence of 2007, when locals rose against a land acquisition move and 14 villagers were killed in police firing.
Farmland for industry
Veterans of the Land & Land Reforms department say Singur and Nandigram happened not because farmers did not wish to part with their land but because they saw themselves being left out of the development process. “The farmer loses three things: land, livelihood and stability,” says an official, requesting anonymity. “
Just paying the present market value of the land is not enough—they must be compensated for the perpetual loss of income and given an alternative livelihood from Day One.” As an insider says, the Singur location would have been better for a food processing hub on the private public partnership model. “The government used old records of the pre-bargadar period when the land was mono-crop. Over the past two decades, the land has become multi-crop.”
Why Bengal? Why not?
West Bengal and the east in general cannot be ignored, because of the vast deposits of various minerals and its location as a gateway to South East Asia. There is a huge potential for growth that had been suppressed by militant trade unionism over the first two-and-a-half decades of Left Front rule. Rajeev Singh, Secretary General of the Indian Chamber of Commerce, says Singur is a small drop in the flood headed for West Bengal. “But it will be a disaster for fresh investment if the Tatas decide to pull out of Singur,” he concedes, “because it will be a defeat for the Chief Minister.” Sanjay Budhia, ICC President and Chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s National Committee on Trade Policy, says he has no doubt that the Singur project will come up. For over five years now, Budhia and some others like him have largely succeeded in helping the state shed its negative image.
He says a solution will be found since industrialisation has become a peoples’ movement, and the stakeholders have shown a flexibility of approach. “This kind of situation can happen in any state,” says Budhia, pointing to the steady stream of investors who have kept calling on the state. “Investors do not come to make courtesy calls or for charity… they come for hard-core business interests.” The state’s trump card, he says, is Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. “Once, Jamshyd Godrej, asked me: ‘Sanjay, can you export your chief minister to us?’”. Singh echoes him: “A big factor is the Chief Minister—the way he has gone ahead with very industryfriendly policies... I think that definitely attracted everybody.
Once people found that there is a government and a CM who are willing to help, willing to facilitate, things started to happen.” The Chief Minister himself stresses that Singur is an aberration and not the trend for the future. “West Bengal is not Singur… Some people may create problems in our path of industrialisation. But no one can stop it,” he said.