Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tata, Mamata and the future of Bengal

Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen, speaking recently in a function at Kolkata, has expressed his dismay over the recent developments at the small car project of Tata Motors in Singur: 'Industrialization is a must for development……It can’t be attained only by agriculture. You will not be able to show me one developed country that has reached there focusing solely on agriculture. If the Tata factory can’t come up in Singur it will be bad news for West Bengal’s development. Concerned parties should try to resolve the matter through talks.'

There are valid reasons for Prof. Sen to be worried. Mamata Banerjee is again back in business. After her party’s euphoric performance in the Panchayat polls, she has now publicly vowed to disrupt the Tata small car project by all means. Her enthusiastic party workers have started forcefully evicting workers and employees coming to work at the Nano plant in Singur. The motive is to build-up a fitting ground for their beloved ‘didi’ who had announced to join them from 24th August for an indefinite ‘peaceful’ dharna at the factory site. She has declared, “Temporary camps will be set up on a 4 km stretch surrounding the automobile plant...If any attempt is made to prevent our peaceful agitation, there will be statewide protests and the government will have to face the consequences.” Her words are clearly a stern warning to confiscate the ongoing Nano project. Her demand: the state government (read CPIM) must “return 400 acres of land forcibly acquired from unwilling poor farmers.”

How she has designed the ‘peaceful’ dharna, is well manifested from the prelude actions by gory workers of Trinamool/BUPC in Singur. Let us chronicle it in a sequential order:

1. Posters are spread all around the Tata Motors plant locale by the Trinamul backed Save Farmland Committee (BUPC) warning dire consequences to the workers and employees who had come from outside to work at the factory site. The posters also served diktat to them for leaving Singur immediately,

2. BUPC hooligans blew up crude bombs at Singur railway station,

3. Bombs are thrown at Mainak Lodge, a temporary residence of some workers of Tata Motors,

4. BUPC hooligans stopped a trekker carrying workers to the factory site, slapped the passengers, and ordered them to leave,

5. Verbal abuse were hurdled at workers; some of them were beaten up when they went to the local bazaars to buy stuff to cook meals,

6. An engineer Manish Khatua, working at the Tata Motors project site was assaulted by the BUPC ruffians and later hospitalized. Convener of BUPC, Becharam Manna, was elated to assert that beating up the engineer was a good job done.

The results came instantly. Terrified workers fearing their life have started to leave Singur for safer homes. As per media reports, there were poor attendance registered at the plant site after the incidences. Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the local Trinamul Congress MLA affirmed, “Many workers have left the small-car project site. We will drive away the rest.”

The fervent media, which till the panchayat polls had adequately pinched and poked fun at the Bengal government’s industrial drive and have creditably manufactured the anti-people, autocratic image of the CPIM, suddenly become extremely concerned about the state’s industrial future. A worried media rushed for a comment from Tata Motors. Tata Motors finally responded. Managing Director Ravi Kant referring to the incidents remarked, “We will continue as long as our patience lasts” and “Ultimately, the people of Bengal have to decide whether they want industrialisation.” Works in the small car project at Singur was moving ahead fast and the production was expected to start within two more months of time. The anxiety of Tata Motors is comprehensible but the media’s overdrive is suspicious.

Total 997.11 acre of farmland was acquired by the WB government in Singur. Eleven thousand owners of 690.79 acres had willingly accepted the compensation. Owners of 306.32 acres are yet to accept the compensation. According to government figures (we agree to it or not is the subject of another argument), nearly a little more than one and half thousand of owners are the ‘poor people’ Mamata is referring to. Not all are unwilling but due to legal problems unable to claim the compensation. Even if we accept for arguments sake that all of them are against the acquisition, is it possible to return them their 306.32 acres, which are scattered in the form of small plots inside the whole project area? The realistic answer should be – a straight no. How is it possible to fish out those plots from the whole project map? Returning the 306.32 acres to their unwilling owners is a ridiculous demand. It is almost like scrapping off the project.

The second proposition floated was to allot plots to those unwilling owners from one side of the project periphery and exclude those lands from the project map. This proposition also sounds absurd as it means that the unwilling owner will be allotted plots from the willing owners’ account, which has been sold to the government for the purpose of building industry, not for the purpose of settling disputes. The willing owners’ then will certainly have a justified reason to disapprove this unjust decision and could legally move against the government for cheating them. The whole situation will then turn to be a complicated legal issue. According to a judgement of The Supreme Court of India, (judgement on Civil appeal No. 6856 in the year 1999 and Civil appeal No. 8110 in the year 2000) land once acquired by government cannot be returned to their original owners. Even if the project for which land was acquired does not materialize, government can utilize the land for any other public project or sell it through an auction to the highest bidder. Therefore, once acquired, by no way it is possible to return back the land to the original owners.

Mamata has also questioned: when 600 acres are sufficient for a car project like the one in Singur, why thousand acres have been acquired? Her conclusion is “the additional 400 acres (are) acquired for building shopping malls and other things”. She had not made it clear what she meant by ‘other things’. She will never spell it out because she knows very well that the additional land has been acquired to accommodate 55 small and middle scale industries who will manufacture ancillary supplies for the main plant. Ancillary units are an integral part of any major car project. As per the recommendation of NATRIP (National Automotive Research & Development Infrastructure Project), to manufacture one-lakh cars, initially 450 acres of land is required. To manufacture an additional one-lakh car, 25 percent of the initial land must be incorporated in the project. Land for ancillary units is not included in this estimate. Tata Motors is expected to build 3.50 lakhs of car at Singur and if calculated with NATRIP standards this project essentially requires 1575 acres of land. As an example, the Maruti Car Industry has 650 acres for the main factory and 600 acres for ancillary units. In total Maruti uses 1250 acres to manufacture similar number (3.50 lakh) of cars.

In this context, it is sufficiently clear that the movement of Mamata Banerjee, also devotedly supported with strategic inputs by ultra left groups, virgin communists, and ‘progressive’ nano intelligentsia, is actually part of a larger political gambit. The intention is to not only impede but also put an end to the industrial future of Bengal. The ‘cutting off own nose to prevent others passage’ attitude by a prominent section of our society, especially among the learned but fiercely envious middle class is a saddening reality of this country.

In near future there is a possibility of a twist in the tale. Mamata has expressed willingness for a dialogue with the Tata’s by announcing, “I have no confrontation with them.” How she has reached to this sudden realization will unroll in the near future. Trinamool insiders close to her are suggesting that she does not want to be labeled as anti-industry. The WB government and the CPIM party have welcomed her gesture. It could also be another of her gimmicks orchestrated along with the media to connote herself as a responsible politician.

Like Prof. Amartya Sen many of us are equally worried. Also the recent events in Singur give us ample reasons to be skeptic about Mamata Banerjee's show of wisdom .


Vinod_Sharma said...

For once, the Left is 'Right'. Unfortunately, Mamta represents the incresingly ugly face of India's politicians who, for votes, are willing to distort facts, disrupt development and destroy social harmony.

Let us hope that, somehow, sense is made to prevail on her and she is made to realise, as are others too, that votes, ideology etc are meant to be tools to take the nation forward. When they become an end in themselves, such are the results.

Mavin said...

Pardon my ignorance but is there no fallow land or uncultivable land in WB or is the entire state fortunate to have fertile farmland

I ask this because I believe in Gujarat, SEZs (like Mundra SEZ)are on arid fallow land. This, I am told, has avoided unnecessary conflict with farmers.

Now having decided on Singur, I guess it has become a fait accompli and wily nily you end up supporting the project.

The project may bring much prosperity in that area in the years to come, but would it have been rendered unviable if at the outset there was right application of mind and location altered by a few hundred kms either way.

Coming back to Mamata B, I guess her emphasis has always been on the theatrical and plenty of emotional bluster without any substance. The tragedy is that such leaders still have a loyal following.

shubho said...


Mamata Banerjee is by nature a rabble-rouser but always for her own opportunistic causes. Her politics of opportunism makes her actions and decisions utterly unpredictable to even her closest aids. She was elevated to what she is today by the local Bengali media, to fill the void of a strong opposition force in Bengal. Her ideology is fierce anti CPIMism, which is her only USP. Accountability is an unknown word in her dictionary.

Her recent ‘change’ of nature is actually a decorated media initiative to shape her according to the changed socio-economic scenario of post-Buddhadev Bengal. Her new friends like the CPIM renegades, Maoists, and ultra-left intellectuals, who had associated with her only for their anti-CPIM cause, are also contributing to this image lift.

shubho said...


At the early stage, WB government had shown the Tatas several plots, including some in and around Kolkata, from which they chose Singur. Tata Motors considered Singur most acquiescent to setting up the project. Their choice was based on the unique requirements of the plant site, including physical characteristics, logistics, and cost factors. You can see the interview of Tata Motors MD Mr. Ravi Kant here.

Tata Motors does not own the Singur land. It was acquired by WB government on behalf of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) and being leased to them. I am sure that the whole controversy would not have risen if Tata Motors had directly purchased the land from the owners. The involvement of WB government in the acquisition made it a political issue. Land is a very sensitive subject and Mamata with her dubious friends had utilized the situation and exploited it to score political goals.

Acquiring land for new industry is extremely difficult in West Bengal because the state has only 0.5% infertile lands compared to nearly 17% of the national average. The marginal and small farmers cultivate 78.78% of total lands in West Bengal. Gujarat, in comparison has more than 15 % of lands that are infertile or fallow. As a result, Gujarat is running the largest number of SEZs in the country without any visible conflict.

Your observations on Mamata Banerjee are perfect.