Saturday, October 4, 2008

An elegy for Singur

After Mr. Ratan Tata's pullout of the Nano project from Singur was announced, the industry minister of Bengal expressed in a glum voice that he doesn’t feel like living in Bengal anymore. The chief minister is in acute pain and distress, has turned mute and preferred to stay aloof from the rest of the world. The industry bigwigs have said that the decision is the most regrettable incidence which has dampened the festive spirit of Sharodotsav, the biggest festival of Bengalis. A sizeable section of the well wishers of Bengal are deeply sad. Particularly hopeless are the ‘willing’ farmers of Singur who has given their land, received the compensation and invested the money in small business projects largely depending on the Nano factory. With heavy hearted sadness from a devastated dream, an overall bleak mood looms large over this ill-fated state. For years to come, Bengal will have very little left to pride about itself before the world.

According to soil experts, the land inside the abandon Nano site will no longer be suitable for agriculture. Even if land is returned to the unwilling farmers (which is a distant possibility), the most optimistic and diligent among them will not be able to grow crops there in near future. No one will anymore be interested to purchase this infertile land from them even for purposes other than farming as after the exit of Tata, Singur will certainly have no significant land value. The land price will drop rapidly. The large number of 10852 farmers/landowners who have accepted compensation will also not be able to repurchase their once sold land as the money they received from compensation must have been already invested or used for setting up small trades. Where will they get the extra money to repurchase? Even the prospect of a new trade will diminish. Therefore, it is amply clear that the entire economy of Singur will be ruined. The collapse of hope among the inhabitants will generate a grave socio-economic problem even more than today’s. From a land of ecstasy it will now turn into a land of despair. Also as a section of the media predicts, Singur now appears headed toward a full-scale conflict between those who had given up their land for a dream of a better tomorrow with those who believed and followed Mamata Banerjee and her friends in the hope of squeezing out more compensation from the government.

The August 2006 Planning Commission report (Report of working group on Automotive Industry, Eleventh five year plan 2007-2012) says that the automobile industry today is providing direct and indirect employment to 1.31 crore people in India. Currently the industry employs 200,000 persons in vehicle manufacturing, 250,000 in component companies and 10 million at different levels of value chain – both through backward and forward linkages. The expected growth in the investments and output of India’s automotive sector during the next 5 years will create further employment opportunities in the country. Additional 15 million jobs are likely to be created by way of both direct and indirect employment in automotive companies and in other parts of the vehicle value chain such as servicing, repairs, sales and distribution chains. The employment opportunities would be in production for both skilled and unskilled laborers.

There are around 80 lakhs registered jobless youths in Bengal today. Sixty five per cent of them are educated and a large number of them are coming from villages. What will be the number of jobless youths in 2012? If no new jobs are created in the state, the number will reach near to a crore, as the numbers of registered jobless are growing by 4 to 4.5 lakhs per year in the state. Where will these educated jobless youths earn their living from? Obviously, they will be forced to move out mostly to industrially advanced states like Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and Delhi. Will the economy of Bengal be able to survive only by farming and fishing? The alarming reality of uncertain job prospect for the rapidly growing number of unemployed was the basis why the Bengal government earnestly thought to give so much importance to the Nano project. The government, the chief minister, the industry minister worked overtime to obtain this project because they knew that it will open the floodgate of employment opportunities for its younger generation. Now after the exit of Tata, it is for sure, no one will even imagine putting up an automobile plant in the state. It is extremely doubtful that something like the Nano project is going to be repeated there in the near future. Investments in other projects will also get hampered as investors will not want to take the risk of investing in a state where any project could be stalled by the whims of an irresponsible opposition.

The quarrel between agriculture and industry was not the actual reason behind the Singur crisis. Neither was it about ‘forceful’ land acquisition for industry. All the ideological and ethical rhetoric instigated by professed sociologists and academics on this topic, all the crocodile tears for agriculture was simply bogus. Total land acquired for the Singur plant was 0.007 per cent of Bengal’s total agricultural land. This paltry amount of land cannot make a devastating impact on the agricultural future of Bengal. The propagators of this opinion are either idiots or deceitful. The crisis was structured by malevolent political minds, by stimulating a rotten greed to seize more money from selling farmland. There would have been no agitation or protests, no Mamata Banerjee factor, no guest appearances by Medha Patkar or Amar Singh, no revolutionary aggression staged by Anuradha Talwar or the Maoists if Tata Motors had directly bought land from the farmers. All ‘unwilling’ farmers would have at once turned ‘willing’ the moment their pockets were filled adequately. The romanticism of farming would have vanished in the blue. Post land reform Bengal, the farmers are not so stupid as many of us think they are.

Mr. Ratan Tata has said in his press conference that, “Two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.”

Mr. Tata is right. The triggered bullet has brutally killed a pulsating hope. The hope for a prosperous future of Bengal. A hope to create employment prospects for its younger generation and be proud to accommodate a unique automobile project of international importance. By pulling the trigger, Mamata Banerjee and friends has callously killed the Bengal dream for a better tomorrow.

Time has come now to firmly confront the killers. Time has come to nail each of them one by one who have destroyed the dream for a resurgence of Bengal. It could be someone within or outside Bengal. It could be a dubious central government representative temporarily stationed in Bengal. It could also be the invisible sponsor/sponsors of the agitation in Singur “from where the funds and logistic support came from''.

Whoever they may be, the time has come now for all who are still concerned for the state to look straight into their eyes and roar - enough is enough.