Monday, September 1, 2008

Why This Agitation In Singur?

By Nirupam Sen
THE Trinamul Congress is at it again. It has re-embarked in its familiar role of creating chaos over the small car factory project of Tata Motors in Singur. A so-called movement to save land is crossing democratic boundaries and fomenting violence. A technician working on the project was roughed up with iron rods recently. He had to be hospitalised in a serious condition. A few days ago, another worker was attacked on his way home from the project site. The workers in the Nano factory, who live in rented accommodation in the area, are being subjected to threats to vacate their lodgings; even the owners who have rented out such accommodation are not being spared. On the way to the factory site or on their way back after work, workers are being intimidated, threatened and beaten up regularly. Public announcements are being made telling the workers to stay away from the project. The Trinamul Congress is now making the workers their soft target, with the aim of scuttling the project.

This small car project has drawn attention and created enthusiasm not only in the state of West Bengal, but also in India, and worldwide. The aim of the project to manufacture a low cost small car has generated amazement. Huge work is going on in Singur around this project. Thousands of workers, engineers, and technicians are involved in this project round the clock. It has had a major impact on the local economy. Shops, markets and banks have sprung up in the area. A few days ago, the car manufacturing giant MUL (Maruti Udyog Ltd) had organized a car fair in Singur. A report confirmed that they managed to sell as many as 20 vehicles in a single day. A few months ago, a newspaper reported a huge hike in motorcycle sale in that region. These examples clearly highlight the impact of the project on the lifestyles of the people in that area, even before the start of actual production. Numerous local workers are working at the site, along with workers from different parts of the state.


The state government, after discussion with Tata Motors, and the other ancillary industries involved in the project, has drawn up a vast plan to employ the youths of the families who lost their land for this project. Advertisements were put up for various job-oriented training programmes for younger family members of those whose land had been acquired. A large number of youths enrolled their names, and till date, 2793 young men and women are there on the roll. Moreover, 575 others, from landless families, are on the list. Steps are being taken to provide them with suitable training according to their qualifications, and to employ them on completion of training. Out of these, 855 are women. A significant section among these people is already employed in different sectors. More than 900 youths, both men and women, are already part of different rehabilitation projects. The programme to provide employment to the rest is also on. Women have formed self-help groups to run canteens. 40 local women are learning tailoring; preparations are on to provide them with sewing machines. Tata Motors has sent the majority of ITI trained persons in the area to their Tatanagar and Pune factories for advanced training. Preparations are on to provide training to those who are less educated, poor and land-less to enable them to work as car drivers and security and maintenance staff. Efforts are on to employ them not just in the main factory, but also in the ancillary units. There are also plans of assistance in place for those who want to pursue self-help. I do not know of such a wide range of effort even before the start of production in a factory in any other state of India.

Tata Motors recently announced that the construction is on schedule, and will be completed within one or two months. The preparations to create disruption around the project were timed just after this announcement. The aim is to tarnish West Bengal’s image in front of the country and the wider world since attention is focused on this project. The unfortunate truth is that, a section of the media in the state is party to this ill venture.


Are the demands raised by the Trinamul Congress or the so-called ‘Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee’ (Committee to Resist Land Acquisition) at all realistic? The demand is to restore the land that has been acquired to the so-called ‘unwilling’ farmers. It is a fact that quite a few landowners are yet to accept the sum offered as compensation. A total of 997.11 acres of land have been acquired. Eleven thousand owners of 690.79 acres of lands have accepted their payments. Owners of roughly 300 acres of lands are yet to accept the compensation. The number of these owners may be a little more than 1100. This data clarifies that the overwhelming majority of the landowners have accepted their payments. Out of those who have not accepted compensation, many could not do so due to legal complications around ownership issues. If we assume for the sake of argument that all those who did not accept the payments for their land are ‘unwilling’, is it possible to release their land after acquisition? The lands of those ‘unwilling’ landowners are not contiguous plots; rather these are small plots spread all around the project area. Even a child will understand that releasing those plots will mean dumping the whole project. It may be argued that equivalent amount of land from one side of the project site be released in lieu of the plots. This is not only illogical, but also unfair. This means A, who is ‘unwilling’ will have to be transferred the land of say B, who voluntarily sold the land. Why should B accept that? B could argue that if her/his land is not required for the purpose of industry, the land must be returned to her/him. This is impossible both legally and morally. There had been legal battles over these types of issues in the country’s highest courts. The Supreme Court had given a clear verdict in this regard, which says, a piece of land cannot be returned to its previous owner once it has been acquired. Even if the acquired land could not be used for the purpose it was intended to, it must be used for purposes related to public interest. Excess land, if any, may be auctioned by the government to the highest bidder. These directives are stated in the verdicts against civil appeals No. 6456 and 4113 of years 1999 and 2000 respectively. In a case between the state of Kerala versus N Bhaskar Pillai and others, the question emerged, “whether the government can assign the land to the erstwhile owner.” The Supreme Court in its verdict in 2004 said, “It is a settled law that if the land is acquired for a public purpose, after the public purpose was achieved, the rest of the land could be used for any other public purpose. In case there is not other public purpose for which the land is needed, then instead of disposal by way of sale to the erstwhile owners the land should be put to public auction, and the amount fetched through the public auction can be better utilised for the public purpose envisaged in the directive principles of the Constitution.” So, it is not a hard task to understand the motives of those who are raising demands for return of land that has been already acquired. They want to scuttle the project in its totality. The so-called ‘movement’ at present is being driven with this aim. There is no scope of doubt about this.


It is being said that the amount of land acquired is much more than the actual amount required for a motor-vehicle factory. It is a well-known fact that land was acquired not only for the main factory, but also for some 55 small to medium ancillary units. Those who are involved in contemporary motor-vehicle manufacture know the requirements of this composition of main and ancillary industries. The specialist organisation set up by the central government, NATRIP [National Automotive and Research and Development Infrastructure Project (] has framed some concrete proposals regarding the amount of land required for this kind of project. According to NATRIP, a main plant capable of producing one lakh (hundred thousand) cars per annum would need 450 acres of land. A 25 per cent increment of land has been proposed for each lakh units of production thereafter. This proposal excludes the amount of land required for the ancillary units which will manufacture the spare parts. Tata Motors has projected to produce 3.5 lakh cars per annum. So, they would have needed a lot more land for their main plant itself, according to the NATRIP proposal. In this case, around 645 acres of land has been allotted for the main plant. Around 250 acres of land has been allotted for the ancillaries. It should be noted that the Maruti factory at Gurgaon is on 650 acres of land, and their ancillaries are spread over another 600 acres of land, producing the same 3.5 lakh cars per annum. This is a total of 1250 acres in contrast with the 997.11 acres of land allotted for the Tata project in Singur. So, it is clear that the amount of acquired land is less than the actual requirement.


Despite all these facts and figures, the state government wants a steady and acceptable solution in this regard based on discussions with all concerned. If the opposition party’s main goal is to financially rehabilitate the poor and marginal farmers, solutions can be worked out through dialogue. The state government will definitely stand by those who are completely dependent on their land, and might lose all they have as a result of land acquisition. In this case, discussions can surely be pursued for their alternate economic rehabilitation. Issues concerning the overall development of the area also need to be considered. The goal is to accelerate and implement the possibilities of industrialisation in this state. Help from one and all is needed in this regard. A lot of effort and help from a great mass of people is needed to do anything constructive. But to destroy, a few people are enough. No political party of the state thinks that the state does not need to industrialise. Despite this, the behaviour of the chief opposition party and some of the other smaller political outfits is against any process of development and employment generation. They are eager to project a negative and destructive movement as a democratic one. All democratic people should vocalise their opposition to such negative directionless movements.

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