Singur (West Bengal): Union railways minister Mamata Banerjee has begun offering jobs in Indian Railways to people from Singur from whom land was seized by the West Bengal government for the Tata Motors Ltd small-car factory.
For the people? Union railways minister Mamata Banerjee. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
So far, 11 persons from Singur have been employed under the discretionary quota of general managers of the zonal divisions of Indian Railways, according to leaders of the Trinamool Congress (TMC)—West Bengal’s main opposition party, founded by Banerjee in 1998. The jobs were given to people who backed the Banerjee-led agitation against land acquisition for the now abandoned small car factory. Violent protests by locals, backed by the TMC, led Tata Motors to pull the plug on the project in October 2008 and move the factory to Sanand in Gujarat.
The TMC has prepared a list of some 700 people who refused to accept compensation for their land in protest against the acquisition, according to Dipankar Ghosh, a gram panchayat (village council) member from Singur and a TMC activist. “We had sent a list of 38 persons and already our leader has hired 11,” said Ghosh.
However, TMC leaders from Singur aren’t speaking about it in the open because they are concerned that “thousands of people” would demand jobs, which is impossible for the railways to meet.
There were in the end at least 2,100 people who did not accept cheques from the state government in protest against the acquisition.
The TMC has decided to implement this “rehabilitation scheme in phases”, the party’s legislator from Singur, Rabindranath Bhattacharya, said.
“We will talk to our people and make sure that this didn’t lead to any conflict among our supporters,” he added.
A spokesperson for the railways said general managers could hire people under their “discretionary quota”, but he had no information about “what was going on in West Bengal”.
Lok Sabha member and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Basudeb Acharya said Banerjee was toeing the line of predecessors, “who hired thousands of people for political gains”. “It’s unconstitutional,” said Acharya, who is also a member of the Railway Board. “These are means to rebuild the Trinamool Congress’ support base in Singur, which has dwindled since Tata Motors announced it was moving its factory to Gujarat.”
Besides offering jobs with the railways, Banerjee is also going to help people from Singur set up shops on “railway properties”, according to Ghosh. Sustained agitation against forcible land acquisition for industrial projects helped Banerjee stage a political comeback in the general election last year.