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Bengal communists put brakes on industry after poll debacle

Bengal communists put brakes on industry after poll debacle
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First Published: Tue, May 26 2009. 06 38 PM IST
Updated: Tue, May 26 2009. 06 38 PM IST
Kolkata: India’s communists will limit land acquisition for industry in their heartland state after voters angry over seizures of fertile farmland rebuffed them in a general election this month.
The communists lost parliamentary seats in West Bengal, which they have ruled since 1977, highlighting a broader stand-off between industry and farmers unwilling to give up land in a country where two-thirds of the population lives on agriculture.
The move to restrict land acquisition underscores how parties are under pressure in India to appease farmers, whose support for the ruling Congress party and its allies was key to the coalition’s victory.
“Industry would be set up only in barren land or at best in single crop land in agriculturally backward districts,” land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said.
Violent protests by farmers unhappy over the land compensation paid to them forced India’s Tata Motors to abandon plans to set up a factory in Singur in West Bengal to produce the world’s cheapest car.
The company will now make the Nano in western Gujarat state, one of the country’s most industrialised states with which West Bengal’s communist government were trying to narrow the gap.
A $3 billion project to set up a chemical hub in Nandigram, a cluster of villages in a southern district in West Bengal, was also called off after running battles between farmers, police, and communist activists. At least 35 villagers were killed.
Mollah said any future land acquisition would be done with consent of the villagers.
The communists won 15 parliamentary seats out of the 42 at stake in West Bengal in the April-May election, down from the 35 they held earlier, in their poorest showing in decades.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led coalition, which relied on the communist for support after the 2004 election, returned to power at the centre with a stronger majority.
The West Bengal government, famous for being the world’s longest-running elected communist administration, faces a state election in 2011 and is unlikely to launch any major initiatives to boost industrial development, analysts said.
“I don’t think any new industry would come up in the next two years. Given the mandate, the left would not risk it except for the projects in the pipeline,” said Abhirup Sarkar, an economist with the Indian Statistical Institute in West Bengal.
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First Published: Tue, May 26 2009. 06 38 PM IST