Singur: A sizeable section among the 2,200-odd protesting Singur farmers are now willing to give up the fight against Tata Motors Ltd’s small car factory if the West Bengal government agrees to offer a better compensation and rehabilitation package than the one offered two years ago when the land was acquired.
These 2,200 people, who according to the government, own a little more than 300 acres, have yet not collected their compensation cheques. Led by the Trinamool Congress, the state’s principal opposition party, they want the land returned to them—a demand the government has ruled out.
On Saturday, however, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said his government had prepared a new compensation and rehabilitation package without revealing details. He said he would speak about it only after discussing it with the opposition, which insists it won’t budge from its demand for return of 400 acres from within the project area.
Bhattacharjee, who addressed Left Front leaders in Kolkata on Saturday at an emergency meeting, said enhanced compensation was the only way to resolve the Singur impasse, according to a Left leader who attended the meeting.
Show of strength? Trinamool Congress supporters in front of the Tata Motors plant in Singur, demanding the return of 400 acres of farm land, which they say was acquired without adequate compensation. (Indranil Bhoumik / Mint)
Bhattacharjee faces considerable resistance from within his own party—the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM—but managed to convince leaders about the need for improving the compensation package, the same leader said, on condition of anonymity. “We were concerned that this would set a very bad precedent, but the chief minister explained why it is important to buy peace at this juncture,” he added.
Word had spread in Singur following the chief minister’s meeting with Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee on 20 August that the government was willing to pay a price higher than the Rs13 lakh to Rs17 lakh offered initially, say farmers. “We heard that an offer of Rs54 lakh an acre was discussed in that meeting,” said Susanta Manna, whose family had to give up 25 bighas, or a little over eight acres, for the project. Asked if his family would settle if the government offered a better price, Manna said, “Anyone accepting the compensation cheque runs the risk of being socially ostracized.”
Fear stalks Beraberi village of Singur. Much of the land that has gone into Tata Motors’ Nano factory belonged to people of Beraberi, but they say they are too scared to give up the fight. “Becharam Manna (the local activist leading the agitation) and his men come every evening and threaten us against accepting the compensation,” said a farmer, who wouldn’t reveal his name. But a large number of farmers Mint spoke to said they were willing to settle if offered a better compensation. Local Trinamool activists deny the charge.
Dibakar Das, a CPM district committee member, who himself had to surrender five acres, admitted the price offered by the government was almost half the market price now. “But if the Tatas leave, the price of land will plummet to a fraction of the current market price,” warned Das.
Newspapers in Kolkata reported the government was willing to offer a 300-acre plot opposite the Tata Motors factory to the 2,200-odd farmers who have still not collected their cheques, but officials wouldn’t confirm this. The state’s commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen had earlier told Mint the government was willing to offer a better compensation package.