India File

From Singur to Kolkata: bye bye Tata... welcome Tata

Pratim Ranjan Bose Abhishek Law | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 14, 2016

The showstopper Industrialists greet the Chief Minister after her speech at the Bengal Global Business Summit 2016 ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

After leading the anti-Nano agitation, Mamata Banerjee is wooing investors assiduously

The deserted sheds of the Tata Nano factory at Singur are now a landmark on National Highway 2. From a harbinger of change in West Bengal’s barren industrial landscape, the project ended up showing the state’s ugly side. The factory was relocated to Gujarat, after the successful anti-land grab agitation led by Mamata Banerjee in 2008.

Eight years down the line, the Chief Minister is busy promoting West Bengal as an ideal investment destination. And the Left is now using the unused land in Singur to call the bluff on her claims. “She is spreading lies about industrialisation,” former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said at a public meeting in January, demanding industrialisation of Singur. Banerjee has passed the buck to the courts. "We have enacted the law to return land to unwilling farmers. Now it is in the court. If the court takes five years or 50 years to adjudicate we are helpless," she said recently.

The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011, found favour with the High Court. But the wait is taking a toll on the people of Singur. The government is offering a monthly stipend of ₹2,000 to 4,500 people – including landowners, sharecroppers and landless labourers.

The rest, who had given up land in the hope of direct or indirect employment, have lost hope. Soumen Das, now a private tutor, stopped going to college for the ‘dream job’ in the car factory. Biplab, a class XII pass-out was once selected for technicians training, but remains unemployed.

Meanwhile, Banerjee is busy attracting investors and claims to have signed projects worth ₹84,924 crore, employing 2.29 lakh people. In private, industry leaders aren’t convinced. But they are happy with one change. “For the first time I could see processions in Kolkata demanding industrialisation,” says a top executive.

The land issue

When the Singur controversy rocked West Bengal, the state was high on investors’ agenda. Most of the high profile projects, including SAIL’s steel plant and India’s first greenfield private airport, that were inaugurated in the Trinamool regime, were first announced during the Left rule. Things could have been better had Banerjee not slapped the “no SEZ” policy on the IT industry, holding up investments from Infosys and Wipro. To Banerjee’s credit, there have been successes. She resolved the long pending ownership crisis in Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd. The move saved eastern India’s only petrochemical facility and scores of downstream units. Sectors such as food and food processing and cement have got fresh investments. But some of the big-bang infrastructure projects are yet to take off.

Overall, captains of the state economy call her government’s performance ‘lacklustre,’ in comparison to her predecessor. Apart from the general economic gloom in the country, local industrialists put the blame on the ‘hands-off’ approach to land acquisition. Much of the state’s “land banks,” including industrial parks set up under the Left rule, lack necessary infrastructure or are far from the market.

To solve the problem, the government is trying to attract investment in select parks, including those in Durgapur and Kharagpur that are ideally located.

The Chief Minister is careful to avoid a rush for land, fearing a public outcry. Thus, the priority is to use government’s land for new industrial parks.

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Published on March 14, 2016
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