West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has asked businesses to help draft a comprehensive policy on land acquisition for industrial and infrastructure projects and on rehabilitating those displaced.
The request comes nearly nine months after Singur, where Tata Motors Ltd is setting up its small car project, and Nandigram, where the state government wanted to set up a chemical processing zone turned into battlegrounds over the forced acquisition of farmland.
Bhattacharya was speaking at a meeting organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industry lobby.
The state government has been struggling to put together a policy that resolves issues related to the acquisition of land. Last week, the chief minister, addressing another industry body, observed that experience has shown that there cannot be one single model for land acquisition. In West Bengal, JSW Steel Ltd, which is setting up a 10 million tonne (mt) steel plant at Salboni, in West Midnapore district, has offered shares and jobs in the firm to displaced families. Here, it was possible as the number of families displaced was below 1,000. At Singur, where there are about 12,000 families such a compensation is unimaginable, the chief minister said.
Bhattacharya asked the CII national council to “form a committee to go into the land acquisition and rehabilitation issue and help us formulate a policy.”
Pawan Munjal, managing director of Hero Honda Motors Ltd and former president of the confederation said a small committee had already been set up and was examining the issues. Sunil Mittal, chairman and group managing director of Bharti Enterprises Ltd and the current president of the confederation later told media persons that the committee would work on a national policy after speaking to all the stakeholders involved.
Responding to a query from Malvinder Mohan Singh, managing director of Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Bhattacharya invited greater participation by private companies in the state’s public health sector. “The public health system caters to 72% of the state’s population,” he said, adding, “we want private companies to join us, independently or in the public-private partnership.” The entry of private players such as Apollo Hospitals Group, Sankara Netralaya Eye Hospital and Tata Cancer Research Centre has opened up the sector, he said.
Reiterating his opposition to foreign direct investment in the retail sector and his support to Indian companies in organized retail, Bhattacharya cautioned there needed to be restrictions.
“I have told Reliance (Retail Ltd, which has stalled the roll out of its Reliance Fresh stores in West Bengal) that they should not touch food grains and keep their large stores outside the city,” he said, admitting at the same time, that modern retail mechanisms are needed to reduce wastage. Citing numbers, he said although the state produces 11.6mt of vegetables annually, it loses 30% of its output due to lack of storage and other logistics.
In the free-wheeling interaction with industry, Bhattacharya admitted that the adoption and use of nuclear power cannot be avoided in the face of global warming.
In West Bengal, where 96% of the power generated is thermal, attention has now turned on non-conventional sources of energy. Haripur in East Midnapore district, 200km from Kolkata has been selected as a prospective site to set up a nuclear power plant, involving an investment of approximately Rs10,000 crore.
“There are doubts about its environmental impact, the cost of the power it will produce and other technical issues,” the chief minister said. “We will wait for the scientists to debate the issue,” he said.