As one drives to Singur from Kolkata on NH-2, some old tattered banners and billboards are still seen- “Welcome Tata” and “Give back our Land” both in English and in Bengali. Rather contradictory! But that’s the grim reality surrounding the Nano Project. As one gets close to the original factory site different signboards are found scattered from the ‘Nano Bachao Samiti’ (Save Nano Group) requesting Tata to come back.
Everyone by now knows that about 900 acres of land were given to the Tata Motors for the Nano Project, owned by about 12000 land holders. Roughly 11500 farmers willingly gave their land. Of those who did not accept the money, most are still willing to part with their land for the project and in the interest of the locality. But all they want is proper compensation. Nitya Ananda, one such farmer says, “I want industry. But I don’t want a situation where I have no land, no business, no job….what will I do then.” In fact that was the apprehension that most farmers had. They claim that the land yield three crops every year. 92 year old Gopal Santra, one of the most vocal farmers from the opposing group vehemently says, “Tata came here not for country service. But for business.”
Majority of the villagers are not happy though. Uattarram Patro, who willingly gave his land for the project, says “before the Nano project was announced, one bigha of land cost 15-30 thousand rupees. The government gave us Rs 3 lakh.” Farmers, however, claim that the current value is above Rs 7 lakh. Gopal Santra stresses, “I have two sons and the eldest is 50 yrs old. The money offered to us is nothing compared to the current market value.”
Most of the land owners who gave their land were not directly connected with the land, that is they were engaged in other works for livelihood, like masonry, electrician or had some shops. So besides money from the land, which they could easily invest into business, they also ahd more opportunities since constructions had begun at the factory. Says Vishnoodhar, a local villager who had set up a small tea stall near the site, “when construction was going on I could easily earn Rs 300-400 everyday. Now the whole day’s sale hardly exceeds fifty.”
Robin Palen, a local teacher, explains “if land holders had acted intelligently or they had got proper counsel, free from politics, it could have been a win-win situation for all.” He elucidates that most land that fell under the project were one or two crop land. Moreover, about 500 bighas were fallow. Only a small portion yielded three crops each year. But the region is low lying and hence crops often got washed away. That was the reason villagers could not depend upon agriculture and were most of them were also involved in other professions. “A farmer would at best earn 6-7 thousand rupees from one bigha land”, he further explains, “if they had only deposited Rs 3 lakh, the interest every year would amount to at least 20000.” Besides one member was getting job and others too could easily earn more rand by engaging in some other profession. But what if farmers don’t want to sell their land? He refutes, “Haven’t they been selling their land when some one in the family was sick, or when their daughters got married?”
Robin Palen laments, “We never thought industries would come knocking at our village…We missed a golden opportunity.” Locals, especially those who did not have land there or who willingly gave their land also moan on the ‘golden opportunity’ lost and halted the sudden development that had begun in the region. Doctors from Kolkata had started to visit those villages weekly at company’s expense. Roads leading to neighbouring villages were fast being constructed. Says Rabindra Shah, “Tata had built embankments and canals. Our crop was thus saved from flood this year.” In the neighbouring Joymollah village at Bairaberi the Company gave Rs 4 lakh to buy benches, desks, table, chair, and fans. But on September 23 Tata decided to move out of Bengal and with that all aids too have stopped. Vandana Pakhira, a woman from the neighbouring village, becomes aggressive when approached, “What’s the use talking about it now. Tata has already gone.”
Yes Tata has decided to move out and land had not yet been given back. So what next? Most on the locality still hope that the company will have a rethink and the government would persuade them to come back. And if they don’t, villagers pray that some other company would come as the land is no more suitable for cultivation. Gopal Santra rightly concludes, “We want Tata, but we also want job security.”