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Bengal: Tribunal’s Order on Tata Nano Plant Refreshes Land, Job Woes in Singur

Desolate residents claim the land returned to them is not arable, and unemployed village youth have had to leave the area to do menial jobs elsewhere.
Desolate residents claim the land returned to them is not arable, and unemployed village youth have had to leave the area to do menial jobs elsewhere.

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Flickr

Kolkata: There’s a pall of gloom in Singur these days. The area, which was to house the Tata’s Nano plant, which shifted to Gujarat, is in the news once again after an arbitral tribunal asked the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation to pay the company Rs 766 crore as damages in connection with the manufacturing losses incurred by the automobile company. The compensation is to be paid at the rate of 12% compound interest rate holding September 2016 as the base year, plus Rs 1 crore as legal costs.

Recall that Tata Motors had to shift its small car plant following an agitation led by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), which was then in the opposition. Tatas had by then already spent over Rs 1,000 crore in Singur, where 80% of work on its plant was already complete.

After coming to power in the state in 2011, the Banerjee-led TMC government has said that the Singur land on which the car plant was located, would be kept for agrarian use. However, now, that 990 acres of land in Hooghly district land is neither fit for agriculture nor for industry, say several local residents. It stands as an epitaph written on the state’s industrialisation prospects.

 A farmer in Gopalnagar told NewsClick that he had willingly given four bighas of land to the state government for industrialisation. Now, that land had been returned to him in an unusable condition, he claimed.

“We had given the land to the industry so that our village youths would get jobs. Now, the condition is such that they have had to move out of the village and are doing menial jobs in Kolkata and even outside the state as working as migrant labourers,” he added.

Some farmers of Singherbheri had similar tales to tell, and blamed the ruling party for their plight.

“The state government has been unable to restore the lands to arable conditions. Now the land mafia is using the low-lying plots within the erstwhile Singur project area to create pisciculture, which amounts to illegally changing the character of the land completely, contrary to the Supreme court order on the land,’ said a local resident.

Speaking to Newsclick, Debasish Chatterjee, a leader of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in Singur, said the “previous Left Front government had embarked on the small car project for the benefit of the marginal people of the area and for job creation. However, the TMC, taking help of rival powers, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, made a rainbow alliance to destroy the job prospects of thousands of villagers of Singur area and of the state”.

“It was a deep-rooted conspiracy to deprive eastern India of industrial prospects,” he alleged

Meanwhile, the TMC government is contemplating to move the High Court against the arbitration tribunal’s order.

However, some TMC critics point out that had the “destructive’ agitation led by Banerjee not taken place, there would have been no need to compensate the Tatas. Even after the Tatas decided to wind up the project, the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and then industries minister Nirupam Sen had chalked out a blueprint whereby company would have handed over the land for any upcoming project at Singur, they claimed, adding that after coming to power, the state government took a “confrontationist path with the Tatas who then appealed for arbitration.”

Speaking with NewsClick, CPI(M) state secretary and former MP, Mohd Salim, also saw a “deep-rooted conspiracy behind throwing the Tata Motors from Singur…where both TMC and BJP were cohorts.”

“Both these forces were instrumental in killing the aspirations of the unemployed youth of the state,” he added.

“Singur is not happy with the developments. As a former Assembly candidate from Singur, I have seen the distrust in the eyes of many people who said they were shocked at the way Tata Motors had to wind up shop after 80% of the project was complete,” Srijan Bhattacharya, state secretary of Students Federation of India, and  a former CPI(M) candidate from Singur area, said.

Minakshi Mukherjee, state secretary of Democratic Youth Federation of India, said that what happened in Singur denoted the destruction of youths' demand for industrialisation in West Bengal so that they can get jobs within the state. “After the (Singur) fiasco, not a single company is investing in Bengal, even as the Chief Minister is travelling to London and Spain to lure investments. Everybody knows that it was her destructive movement that an automobile unit had to shift out of the state,” she told Newsclick, adding that the local youth were being forced to work as migrant labourers.

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