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Money supersedes land as key issue at Singur

Money supersedes land as key issue at Singur
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First Published: Mon, Sep 22 2008. 08 00 AM IST

On troubled ground: Policemen in riot gear stand guard inside the main entrance of the Tata plant in Singur. Jayanta Shaw / Reuters
On troubled ground: Policemen in riot gear stand guard inside the main entrance of the Tata plant in Singur. Jayanta Shaw / Reuters
Updated: Mon, Sep 22 2008. 08 00 AM IST
Kolkata: While appearing to still keep the Tata Nano plant at Singur at bay over land acquisition, the Trinamool Congress seems to have made a significant shift in strategy that might bode well for the factory’s future in West Bengal.
At issue has been a demand from the Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, to return farming land from within the 997-acre plot allotted to Tata Motors Ltd and its component suppliers in Singur.
The West Bengal government announced a Rs45 crore package a week ago, under which it would pay 50% more to all the 13,000 farmers from whom land was acquired two years ago for the factory. The government had initially offered Rs9-12 lakh an acre depending on productivity.
West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also dangled a carrot for the 2,200 protesting farmers who have refused to accept the compensation for two years, offering them a 10% bonus if they register their willingness to accept the revised compensation with the district administration by 22 September.
On troubled ground: Policemen in riot gear stand guard inside the main entrance of the Tata plant in Singur. Jayanta Shaw / Reuters
Now, as the deadline approaches, it appears that Trinamool Congress activists in Singur are persuading farmers to hold out for a couple of weeks more, promising that the party would bargain for an even better compensation if they don’t give in to the 10% bonus being offered by the administration.
“They aren’t talking about land anymore—it’s about more money now. We have been assured of another 50% increase in compensation if we continue to support the movement for 10-15 days more,” confirms Gopal Santra, a farmer who lost four bighas, or a little over an acre. Santra said leaders of the Trinamool Congress, such as Partha Chatterjee, Mukul Roy and local legislator Rabindranath Bhattacharya, have all visited him at home to explain the party’s plans.
On Sunday, chief minister Bhattacharjee issued a statement saying a further delay could result in Tata Motors pulling the plug on its small car factory in Singur. “I appeal to opposition parties to accept the (revised) compensation package offered by the state government for land acquisition in Singur...(and) allow Tata Motors and its component suppliers to restart work without further delay,” the statement said.
According to an official of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corp. (WBIDC), the key facilitator for the project, the Trinamool has informally indicated that it wants the government to double the revised compensation.
“We might consider raising it a bit, but a 100% raise is out of question,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Trinamool Congress’ Bhattacharya says even the revised compensation package was a pittance.
“The ruling market price in Singur is almost Rs2 lakh a cottah (or Rs1.2 crore an acre). We are telling farmers that what the government has offered is not even comparable. Why should you sell out,” Bhattacharya said.
While Mint couldn’t independently verify real estate prices in Singur, even government officials such as state commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen agree that they have rocketed since Tata Motors announced plans to manufacture its Nano car at Singur.
But the Trinamool Congress’ campaign against the compensation package doesn’t seem to be all about persuasion. Some farmers from Beraberi, Joymollah and Gopalnagar mouzas, or rural wards, that Mint spoke to allege they were being intimidated by Trinamool Congress activists, including Becharam Manna, who has led the agitation from the start, to toe the party line.
“People of Santrapara have been threatened with dire consequences—they have been told they will be crippled for life if they collect their cheques,” says a farmer, who wouldn’t disclose his name for fear of retribution.
“They (Trinamool Congress activists) will make it difficult for us to live here like they did before for many who chose not to join the agitation,” said Manik Das, who hasn’t decided if he should claim the 10% bonus or hold out.
Asked if the allegations of intimidation were true, Trinamool’s Manna simply says: “Whatever we are doing, we are doing to help the farmers.”
Meanwhile, supporters of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), too, are trying to persuade farmers to give up the fight and welcome the Tatas. Camps have been set up in Gopalnagar and Beraberi to escort people who are willing to collect their cheques to the district magistrate’s office. However, they haven’t had much success yet. Around 35 people have registered their consent with the district administration, said a WBIDC official, but many more are expected on the last day.
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First Published: Mon, Sep 22 2008. 08 00 AM IST