Kolkata: The West Bengal government is going to revisit the rehabilitation and resettlement package it has put together for those who give up their land for two of the biggest special economic zones (SEZs) proposed to be set up, to quell growing dissent over the loss of livelihoods.
One of the projects was expected to come up in Nandigram and the second one at Haldia. However, the sites for at least one of the projects will be shifted out of Nandigram because West Bengal has been caught up in protests and violence at Singur and Nandigram over forced land acquisition for industrialzation.
The protests, which caught national attention, have led to a revision of the national SEZ policy being crafted at the Centre to make it more considerate to the land owners who give up their land for the projects. West Bengal is now considering reworking its policies to secure the livelihood of the land losers, rather than on the one-time settlement it was proposing earlier.
The West Bengal government has not yet put in place a comprehensive rehabilitation and resettlement policy, and has been stitching together rehabilitation packages on a case-by-case basis for each industrial project.
The existing package, drafted for those giving up their land for the SEZs to be set up by industrial groups Salim of Indonesia—the two largest in the state are slated to come up on a total of 22,230 acres—mentions offering employment opportunity to the land losers but does not make it mandatory for the investor to provide it. The package also does not stipulate the number of jobs that have to be offered to the land losers.
“West Bengal is seriously poised for a change in its approach,” the state’s minister for commerce and industries, Nirupam Sen, said at the annual regional meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry, eastern region. Asked if this would mean reworking the rehabilitation packages, he said, “it is imperative.”
While the minister is aware that job guarantees are difficult, he is clear that the growing apprehension in the minds of people about their sustenance after they sell their land needs to be addressed. He sees this as a combined responsibility of the public and private sector. “The Union government is talking of one job for every family that gives up its land,” said Sabyasachi Sen, principal secretary for commerce and industry for West Bengal. The state’s most touted project is a Rs1,000 crore project by Tata Motors Ltd for making small cars at Singur.
Though the Tata Motors car project is in the eye of the storm over land acquisition in the state, Sen feels the ongoing rehabilitation programmes at Singur can become a pilot for other development projects to follow in the state.
Here, Tata Motors and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) have been holding a series of skill and aptitude tests, since December. To date, about 11 candidates who were displaced and have passed out of the industrial training institute have been taken for a six- month training at the Tata Motors’ Jamshedpur plant. They will be directly absorbed in the Singur plant. Subsequently, 361 others have appeared for skill tests for selection for training at Jamshedpur. Similarly, WBIDC has been offering tailoring and catering course to women at Singur.
Already, 15 of the women trained at the Indian Institute of Hotel Management in Kolkata have come together to set up a canteen serving the construction workers at the site.
The state’s minister for commerce and industries made a strong case for translating the talks of inclusive growth into action, as he also made a very emotional appeal for continuing with the process of industrializing the state. He said the government’s effort is to ensure equitable economic growth of the entire state and this was possible only through industrial and infrastructure development in all the districts.