After experiencing setbacks in Singur and Nandigram, the Left Front government of West Bengal is treading cautiously on the path of industrialisation.
Land, the core issue of contention, is now being acquired selectively for the sake of setting up new industries and that too in areas where agriculture is weak.
Referring to the selection of site for the proposed Nano manufacturing unit in Singur's fertile land, industry minister Nirupam Sen has tried to defend the state government's position by saying that after the abolition of 'Licence and Permit Raj' it is the prerogative of the investors to decide the place of setting up new industries.
However, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made it clear that this would not be the case anymore.
The state government has identified areas where large tracts of land have been identified around Panagarh, Andal, Jamuria and Asansol in Burdwan district, Barjora in Bankura district and Purulia's Raghunathpur.
Already, 4,000 acres of land has been acquired there without any resistance. He further informed that a new steel plant and a fertiliser plant are coming up in those areas.
What marked the difference in practice with the pre-Singur-Nandigram days is that now the villagers are being consulted prior to acquisition. Bhattacharjee has cited the case of the new aerotropolis (Singapore based Changi Group has been entrusted with constructing an airport and a township) which is coming up at Andal, for which a series of meetings were held with the villagers and they were apprised of the purpose and benefits accruing to them.
The chief minister and the industry minister were discussing the issue of industrialisation in Bengal today in a seminar organised by a Bengali news channel.
The chief minister has also stressed the point that land losers would get remunerative price for their land and the government would offer them rehabilitation package in addition to the price of the land, a departure from the age-old policy of acquiring land under the much controversial Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
He has identified the areas like steel, petrochemicals, IT and food processing as the key sectors where the state is looking for fresh investments.
But at the same time, he has reminded that a broad-based consensus is needed to be built in the society to help create a positive environment for this.
The chief minister and the industry minister lament the fact that while there exists a positive demand for industrialisation, the opposition parties are not responding positively.
Referring to the Singur and Nandigram imbroglios, the chief minister said, "They were also opposed to a proposed power plant at Katwa, and now they are obstructing Nayachar project (Petroleum, Chemicals & Petrochemicals Industrial Region)."
The industry minister observed that while pull-out of Nano project from Singur became a focal point of the negative perception about the state, it went unnoticed that the same Tata Group recently started a major manufacturing unit at Kharagpur on 1,200-acre land.
Nirupam Sen said that despite negative perception, West Bengal was witnessing a steady influx of investment in industry and lagging behind Gujarat and Maharashtra on this score.
Citing Union government's statistics, Sen said that between 1991 and 2009, while in Gujarat, 1,436 industries were set up with an investment of Rs 89,864 crore (Rs 898.64 billion) and in Maharashtra, it was 1,215 units and Rs 33,271 crore (Rs 332.71 billion), West Bengal got 615 units and the total investment was Rs 30,136 crore (Rs 301.36 billion).
Sen said, "The industrial scenario in Bengal is not as bad as is being perceived. The momentum for growth will be there no matter whoever comes to power in the state today or tomorrow." Referring to Singur-Nandigram imbroglio, Sen said, "this has benefited the opposition politically and the ruling party should shoulder the responsibility for its failure. But did it benefit Bengal?"
It seems that despite tall claims, the leaders of the Left Front are more or less resigned to the fact that the political wind is not blowing in their favour anymore.
Image: Nirupam Sen