Fresh political battles break out over Nano project site (Lead)

September 13th, 2008 - 9:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 13 (IANS) A fresh round of political battles has broken out over the land dispute that has stopped work at global automobiles major Tata Motors’ project site at Singur in West Bengal for producing the super-cheap car Nano.The two warring parties - the state’s ruling Left coalition, the Left Front (LF) and its principal opposition, the Trinamool Congress - went on the warpath again Saturday.

The Left Front announced Saturday it was going to launch a March to Singur Monday to build up public support for the project.

Trinamool chief Mamata Bannerjee too Saturday lashed out at the government for violating the peace terms that had been brokered by the state’s Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi last Sunday.

She announced a counter march to Singur Tuesday.

Surprisingly, this new political fracas came almost immediately after governor Gandhi had issued a statement Saturday afternoon appealing to both parties to find a ‘farm-factory’ balance.

His statement was sparked off by the breakdown in talks between the state chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Trinamool leader Mamata Bannerjee Friday evening.

“Reason can be reasonable; passion dispassionate. I believe, given the will, a solution can still be found in a manner that accords with the law, safeguards the interests of farmers, of the small car factory and going beyond, help in establishing the farm-factory balance that we so vitally need,” the governor said in his statement.

Soon after the governor’s statement was issued the Left Front chairman Biman Bose announced plans to launch a campaign Sep 15.

“On Sep 15 at 3 pm, senior LF leaders will hold a rally in Singur to kick-start the campaign in favour of industrialisation of the rural pocket,” Bose told reporters after a meeting of the LF partners.

“In order to build public opinion in favour of the Tata Motors’ project, the LF will campaign across the state in various districts after that,” he said adding “Singur Chalo is the motto for September 15″.

Immediately after that Mamata told the media “West Bengal government doesn’t respect us. It has broken the terms of agreement. We are not ready for any more talks.”

She too called for a “March to Singur” Sep 16 and threatened to launch yet another agitation after Sep 19.

The governor’s statement had also said: “Through the Singur discussions on Sep 5, 6 and 7, I saw earnest participants showing a rare spirit of accommodation. That spirit needs to be operationalised.”

Invoking Rabindranath Tagore, the Governor said: “Jiban jakhan shukai jai koruna dharai esho (when the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy.”

But the day’s developments showed no side was willing to show any mercy and if the Tatas now decide to actually pull out of West Bengal, it will be the hapless people of the state who will become a victim of all this “merciless” politics.

West Bengal had for long been shunned by big industry and the Tatas’ decision two years back to locate the plant to build the world’s cheapest car Nano (to be priced at $2,500 or Rs.100,000) in the state had brought in its wake a number of other industrial investment proposals.

The Trinamool claims that the state government “forcibly” acquired land from farmers “unwilling” to part with their land to allot the Tatas 997.1 acres at Singur, 40 km from here, for locating their Nano project.

She and her party are demanding that 400 acres of project land be returned to the “unwilling” farmers. She had launched a siege of the plant site August 24 which was lifted September 8 after governor brokered a peace deal between Mamata and the state government.

Land owners accounting for more than 650 acres out of the 997.1 acres have already collected their money for selling their land to the state government. The others have not collected their cheques.

Trinamool calls these farmers “unwilling”.

The state government has ruled out return of 400 acres or the scaled down demand of 300 acres of project land as the viability of the project would be destroyed if the Tats cannot also house component makers within the project site.

For this reason, the 400 acres earmarked for component vendors cannot be returned, the state government had argued.

The agreement last Sunday had stated that the maximum possible land from within the project site would be returned while more land would be allotted to the “unwilling” farmers from outside the project site.

A committee comprising Trinamool and government representatives was set up to identify the land that could be returned.

A higher compensation package would also be paid, the agreement had said.

Friday evening the Chief Minister invited Mamata to a meeting to announce that the committee had been able to find only 70 acres within the project site that could be returned.

He also announced a larger compensation package but Mamata walked out of the meeting claiming 70 acres was “unacceptable”. She has stuck to her demand for return of 300 acres.

Bose also announced Saturday that the government would advertise in newspapers Sunday the new package that had been offered and rejected by Mamata Bannerjee to make people of the state aware of what had been offered by the chief minister.

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