Singur: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
As the deadlock over Singur and the Tata Nano plant rumbles on, much of the debate seems to be missing the point.
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.
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