This time over BHEL’s power project proposal.
The past has come back to haunt Singur. A year after Tata Motors pulled the Nano car project out of this sleepy town 40 km from Kolkata, fresh tension is brewing — this time over the recent visit of a team from government-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) for a possible power plant project.
Predictably, Trinamool Congress is at the forefront of the second round of protests for the return of 400 acres from the unwilling land losers. Becharam Manna, convenor of the Trinamool Congress-backed Krishi Jami Raksha Committee and Vice-President Singur Panchayat Samity, is enjoying his renewed importance. “We will now start breaking the boundary wall of the project area,” he says.
Sensing that BHEL’s visit might renew hopes for the people of Singur, Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee renewed her proposal for a rail coach factory, demanding the return of the disputed 400 acres. But for the 800x2 Mw power and power equipment plants that BHEL is proposing, the land requirement would be 1,000 acres, slightly more than what the Nano project needed. The “unwilling” farmers who have not collected cheques after their land was requisitioned have little option but to toe the Trinamool Congress line.
They are hoping for a game-changing event — the Assembly elections of 2011 —when they believe Mamata Banerjee will be voted as Chief Minister and return their land. BHEL or Tata Motors is inconsequential for these farmers.
Sixty-year old Mrityunjoy Ghosh lost his 12 bighas at Singur to the Tata Motors project. After battling for three years, Ghosh, an “unwilling land loser” who has not collected his cheque is willing to do so if the West Bengal government gives him land elsewhere. “Even if I get some cottahs for my 12 bighas, I will be happy. I don’t want money, I want land,” Ghosh said.
For a few others, too, the land-for-land solution appeared to be more acceptable, which the state government has also incorporated in its rehabilitation scheme for most of the proposed projects. But these land losers are a minority.
For majority of the people, Mamata Banerjee holds the key to the Singur impasse as a “willing” land loser said: “They will have to do what didi says.” For Haripada Das, Biswanath Das, Bhuban Bag, Panchkari Manna, Chandra Bag — all unwilling land losers — Banerjee is the decision maker.
But it is the women who have led many of the agitations against land acquisition in Bengal from the front in the last couple of years who have become apprehensive. They have attended rallies and meetings in Kolkata held by Banerjee, but nothing concrete has emerged.
The old crisis of land-losers at Singur may be back, but curiously, the state government showed BHEL the land even though the problem was yet to be solved politically.
West Bengal Commerce and Industry Minister Nirupam Sen said, “BHEL is a central government company. If the government of India wants to see the land, why should we stop?”
There is yet another rider: Most of the vendors and Tata Motors have renewed the lease for the year. And unless Tata Motors decides to give up its right, the land can’t be given to BHEL.
Though Tata Motors Chairman Ratan Tata had indicated on his last visit to Kolkata that he would not stand in the way of development in Singur, he indicated he would have to be compensated for the investment made on the ground.
Also read: Nov 13: BHEL may have power venture at Nano's Singur site