Chhattisgarh chief minister pushes Tata Steel project (Lead)February 4th, 2009 - 4:55 pm ICT by IANS
Lohandiguda (Chhattisgarh), Feb 4 (IANS) Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh says the Tatas will get all his support to set up a $2-billion new steel unit in the state given the benefits it will bring to one of India’s most backward areas, even as the project is facing rough weather over acquisition of farmland.Tata Steel had signed an agreement in June 2005 with the state government to set up the project in Bastar district, one of the country’s most impoverished areas, with an annual capacity of five million tonnes at a cost of Rs.10,000 crore (Rs.100 billion).
But over three years on, the land acquisition is yet to be fully completed.
“Everybody wants the Tata project in Bastar, except some CPI (Communist Party of India) fellows who have misguided a few innocent farmers,” said Raman Singh, who also holds the industry portfolio.
“The Tata plant is a must for development of the backward Bastar region. I want to see the project sail through as early as possible. It has already been delayed,” Singh told IANS.
“I’m sure the land takeover will be over soon.”
The Tatas, India’s largest industrial house with total revenues of over $60 billion and as many as 100 companies in its stable, also maintained that they would see the project through.
“Tata Steel is committed to setting up the steel plant as per the memorandum of understanding signed with Chhattisgarh,” the company’s corporate communications chief Sanjay Choudhry told IANS from Jamshedpur.
“The plant will be set up after land, iron ore, etc. are provided to the company,” Choudhry added, referring to the provisions in the pact with the state government.
The progress on the ground, however, does not appear smooth. There were renewed protests over the acquisition of land spearheaded by the Adivasi Mahasabha, the umbrella organisation of tribal people in the region.
The government has so far acquired nearly 80 percent of the 2,063.06 hectares identified for the project across 10 villages in the Lohandiguda block. The problem is, 86.5 percent of the required land is privately held.
Officials said some farmers have also refused to accept Tata Steel’s compensation package.
The company offered Rs.100,000 per acre for barren land, Rs.150,000 per acre for single-crop land and Rs.200,000 per acre for multi-crop land. This apart, it is also offering one job per affected family.
Additionally, the steel major also promised alternative land - one acre to 2.47 acres under the “land for land compensation” scheme for those who lose more than 75 percent of their holding.
The state government has already paid nearly Rs.368.3 million (Rs.36.83 crore) provided by Tata Steel to 1,064 farmers out of the 1,707 plot holders. But the villagers claim the land was being forcibly acquired - which the Tatas deny.
“The state government is forcibly acquiring land and the local police are acting as the agents of Tata Steel. We are being constantly harassed by the police for protesting against the proposed plant,” said Mahguram, head of a local village.
Added Tokaram, a farmer: “Most farmers don’t want to sell their ancestral land. It’s a crime in our tribal culture.”
When government officials visit the villages, agitating farmers raise slogans, saying they would rather get killed than hand over their land. And for that, they have political support as well.
“We fully back the protesters. If they don’t want the Tata plant why is the government insisting?” questioned Adivasi Mahasabha president Manish Kunjam, a former CPI legislator.
(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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