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Plot thickens, Tata likely to return land

Surajeet Das Gupta & Ishita Ayan Dutt in New Delhi/Singur | October 06, 2008 09:44 IST

Tata Motors [Get Quote] is likely to return the land it has at Singur - all the 1,000 acres of it - to the West Bengal government.

"The lease agreement does not end, but the Tatas wouldn't like to hold on to the land. It will serve no purpose now that the company has decided to pull out of Singur," said sources close to the development.

On Friday, Tata Motors announced that it had dropped plans to set up the mother plant of Nano, universally referred to as the Rs 100,000 car, in the state. Chairman Ratan Tata told Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that the situation at the factory site in Singur, 40 km from Kolkata, was not conducive to further work due to the agitation led by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and her allies.

When contacted, a Tata Motors spokesman said: "As Mr Ratan Tata has said, the land is a matter to be discussed between the company and the West Bengal government." Tata had said on Friday that the issue would be discussed with the state government over the course of time.

Within the government, there is little clarity on the matter. Top government sources said it was too early to comment.

The land given to the company at Singur has been plagued by controversy just like many other large industrial projects in the recent years. South Korean steel maker Posco's project has been stalled over land acquisition and Goa has dropped plans to build special economic zones after protests from political parties. Some other SEZs, too, are mired in similar issues.

At Singur, it is alleged that some farmers had to part with their land against their will.

Today, Singur is a society divided between those seeking to have the Tatas back and those determined to get their land back. The divide between the "willing" and "unwilling" farmers appears to have become deeper since Tata's Friday decision to pull out.

The "willing" farmers, and those connected to the Tata Motors factory in some way or the other, took to the roads, blocking the Durgapur Expressway that runs beside the Tata Motors small car plant.

Both the flanks of the expressway were blocked with blazing tyres and stayed blocked through most of the day. They were cleared only when many protesters went to collect their pay.

Some of the main roads to the villages were dug up as a sign of protest. However, the bandh at Singur was only partial.

The main demand of the vast majority was that the factory be reopened and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who has been held responsible for the pullout, apologise to Tata.

Deepali Mondol, who received catering training as part of the rehabilitation package, said, "We do not belong to any party. We are ordinary people who have given land for the project willingly. We want Tata to come back."

The training was organised by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and Tata Motors helped set up the canteen to cater to the factory workers.

Mondol has 4-5 bighas inside the project site. "We have given all our land. We were looking forward to working for the factory. Now we don't know what to do. We got very good price for the land compared to 4-5 years back when we sold a bigha for Rs 90,000," she said.

The original compensation announced by the West Bengal government fixed the price at Rs 900,000-12 lakh per acre depending on the land and the revised compensation raised the rate by 50 per cent.

Shyamal Das, a bargadar, echoed the sentiments. "We hardly had enough to eat before the project was announced. Now we have lost everything," he said.

Among the protesters was Basudeb Ado, the panchayat pradhan of Gopal Nagar, which contributed the most land for the factory.

According to Ado, after Tata's Friday evening announcement to pull out, some of the "unwilling" land owners also showed up at their camp. "They are being threatened," he alleged.

However, Krishi Jami Raksha Committee convenor Becharam Manna, refuted the charge, calling it baseless.

Manna believes that the land would be returned to the "unwilling" farmers. He puts the number of the "unwilling" land owners at about 2,000, and of the "willing" ones at 11,000.


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