Singur: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it

August 29, 2008

As the deadlock over Singur and the Tata Nano plant rumbles on, much of the debate seems to be missing the point.

SingurThis week, Mukesh Ambani said a “fear psychosis is being created to slow down certain projects of national importance” and said industry should be encouraged to make such large investments.

But in the words of the old song by Ella Fitzgerald (and more recently Bananarama) “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”.

When I visited Singur back in February 2007, the government claimed that 95 percent of the 14,000 farmers on the affected land had voluntarily accepted an offer of compensation.

The government also claimed the land was not fertile, supporting just one crop a year, and said the compensation package was “exemplary”.

A day spent touring Singur was enough to shed doubt on those claims. Not only was this good, well-irrigated land supporting several crops a year, but more importantly many farmers insisted they had not agreed to leave their land.

In village after village, I found, farmers said they had not signed consent forms, insisting that communist party workers had falsified their signatures.

“People have been intimidated by party workers,” 62-year-old Anil Shantra told me. “They brought out a list of people who agreed to sell, but somebody else has signed on my behalf.”

Back in Kolkata, independent economists said the compensation on offer would not give farmers equivalent returns or allow them to buy land nearby.

Paddy field near SingurMy colleague Alistair Scrutton visited Singur this year, and after meeting many more farmers, predicted the deadlock we now see.

It was a similar story in Nandigram. Instead of a system of public consultation, a colonial era land law had been used to seize the land. The government tried to bully people into submission. And then it paid the price.

Should India industrialise further? Of course. Does that mean farmers need to be moved off their land? Of course it does.

The trouble is that in today’s India, farmers do not feel so isolated and alone, and are not so easily bullied.

Car plants are being built in other parts of India without any problems – just look at Tamil Nadu. But land has to be selected carefully to minimise disruptions to farmers, and a fair compensation package offered – surely, given the money involved in the Nano, this would not have been beyond Tata Motors.

West Bengal does have a particular problem – it is densely populated and much of its farmland is fertile. That means it won’t be easy to find land for industry.

All the more reason to tread carefully, consult carefully, and compensate properly. Otherwise land seizures will create more resistance, and more trouble for Indian industry in the future.

Tata plant at Singur: SLIDESHOW

Tata Nano car: SLIDESHOW


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Posted by Sourav dasgupta:

“I don’t think foreign news agencies can have as much depth as local media for such issues.”

Nor can they be so easily bullied by CPM goons or bribed by industrialists.

Not to mention what local media are you referring to? Statesman and Bartaman have very different opinion from Anandabazar and Gansakti.

Posted by papia mitra | Report as abusive

All this support for tatas is based on middle class hopes of a cheap car and employment.(Not that employment for Bengalis are guaranteed — the engineers came from Noida)
Never mind that the farmers and everyone who works on the land will not get any jobs and are undercompensated, and farmers who are worried about their land becoming polluted by adjacent factories — they must be anti-nationals if they are trying to deny middle class their comforts.

I particlarly loved the comment about Royal Bengal Tigers: shining India at its best!
But one does not have to actually go that far; the police can do the work as well. In orissa when tribals protested acquisition of their land to build a TATA steel plant 14 were shot dead.

BTW: CAG estimates WB govt. subsidised Nano at about 70 crores.

Posted by papia mitra | Report as abusive

What has happened in singur is being blown out proportion and the much admired narayan murthy and his team are adding to this. Let us first of all agree that
Mamata’s stake in the affair was to gain political mileage and the strong arm tactics and intimidation used was reprehensible. Having said that, what is wrong
in farmers holding out for a larger share of the pie. Any one would try and maximise his/her gains and more so when he/she was giving up all the assets at their disposal.
Why did the Tata’s choose West Bengal – because of proximity to their steel factory and a government desperate for industry could be coerced in to acquiring prime land on their behalf. The Tata’s are familiar
with the dangers that land acquisition is fraught with – they have recently indirectly responsible for the death of 16 people in Kalinganagar (many are reported missing)because of police firing on adivasis who were resisting land takeover.
It is not a question of being pro or anti industry but realizing that all the parties in this 4 cornered game
( TMC/CPM/Tata/Landlosers)were trying to maximise their gains.

Posted by shekhar | Report as abusive

Thanks for the article, you have hit the nail on the head. If this is not inept governing, to put it mildly, then what is ? The middle class who have a voice on the internet, supports this because they have everything to gain and nothing to lose ! They are not the one losing their livelihoods, on the contrary the blue collar jobs will be theirs. The govt in a so called democracy have no right to forcibly take land, but that is what they did. The ruler of West Bengal made an infamous remark, we are 230 and they are 30, in reference to the balance of power in the state assembly. That pretty much reflects the mode of governance. Why do the un-willing people of Singur have to pay for the mis-deeds of the govt ? What has the rest of the people in WB done to demand sacrifice from the people in Singur ? I do wish that the people and the opposition protested earlier.

Posted by Rakesh | Report as abusive

So, the Singur saga is finally over or is it ? It would be natural for everyone to now come down heavily on Mamata. While Mamata’s methods may have been reprehensible and her personal style unacceptable to many of us – we cannot forget that she is also a product of a system. In condemning her (which she more than deserves) we are only attacking the symptoms but not the disease. She is merely a manifestation of a malaise, the purging of which is bound to be a very painful and time-consuming process. It is easy to say that, the ultimate loser is Bengal, which is undeniable. But, it could also be true that Bengal isn’t ready yet to take that leap into the future.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last word on Nano in Singur yet.

I see lot of analysis was done here. And people taking both sides. Here is an analysis done by Mr Debabrata Bandyopadhyay West Bengal’s former land reforms commissioner and secretary, revenue, government of India, on the gross value of production from 400 hectares of land acquired from over 12,000 owners and co-sharers for the Nano project.
The link:

Posted by wrick | Report as abusive

Mr Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, West Bengal’s former land reforms commissioner is an active member of Trinamool Congress. He is an executive of the 24 Parganas (South) Zilla Parishad elected on a TMC ticket. He joined TMC because of his personal grudge against ruling left front Government. His opinion is biased and full of misleading facts.

Posted by Anbas | Report as abusive

And now the people have given a fitting reply to CPM goons who murdered so many with impunity.

In Singur Mamata’s party won with even more votes than last year’s in spite of chatteringboxes’ projections that ordinary people in Singur no longer liked Mamata because they now realize the harm she did.

Posted by Papia Mitra | Report as abusive