The land acquisition issue in Singur refuses to get resolved and obviously, the biggest losers are the farmers. Unable to live on the land which is rightfully theirs (ignore the entire jargon of all land being the government’s), resentment levels are clearly high.

Now, sick of the constant harassment over the issue, Ratan Tata has begun the tactic of quietly blackmailing the Bengal government. Tata knows how important the SEZ in Singur is to the Bengal government. Tata project in Singur is expected to give a boost to the state’s economy in a major way not just by creation of more jobs and revenue, but also because this deal has attracted a lot of other companies to Bengal. Assocham has recently inferred that “West Bengal has attracted maximum investment announcements since Q3 of 2007-08 with proposals worth Rs 127,302”. Bharat Forge of the Kalyani Group had also expressed its interest in investment but now it seems it would like to rethink before getting into anything concrete.

The West Bengal government’s decision to go ahead with SEZs is actually a good one. But the manner in which it is being done cannot be applauded. The land was forcibly taken from the farmers at a price much lower than the land’s value and no real compensation was offered. Most farmers have refused to accept the compensation. Various proposals of giving them jobs or helping the shopkeepers has been floated around, but no real steps have been taken so far. Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee has effectively turned this issue into a political one, with her hunger strike and her unrelenting attitude. Will the farmers gain anything from this protest? That waits to be seen.

Most of the 1, 000 acre land which has been allotted to Tatas is good, cultivable land and very little of it is barren. In this age of global food crisis, India would be losing out on more land where we could have grown crops. Already India is plagued with farmer suicides and creating more SEZs will just aggravate the problem. The Indian Government must seek to create a balance between agricultural and industrial development.

Also, Tata Group and the farmers still should be allowed to negotiate over the price. I’m sure a fair deal can still be struck. Both the Bengal government and the opposition must leave their differences aside and must work towards chalking out a plan whereby the displaced farmers can be re-initiated into normal living by creation of jobs, workshops, etc. If the happy-to-please-Tata government insists on staying stubborn and if no solutions seems on the horizon, then the Tata group could approach other states who would be equally willing to have the $350 million plant in their own backyard.

Shravya Jain

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