Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shot at direct shopping : - Jindal to buy 500 acres on its own for big-bang Bengal project

Calcutta, Jan. 11: Bengal has allowed a big-ticket investor to buy land directly from individuals, trying out a model that could shield the government from backlashes like that in Nandigram.

Quoting Shakespeare and Rabindranath Tagore soon after the biggest investment deal in Bengal’s history was signed this evening, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the Jindals would on their own buy 500 acres at Salboni near Kharagpur for setting up a steel plant.

The cumulative investment by the Jindals could run up to Rs 35,000 crore over 10 to 12 years, it was formally announced today.

The remaining 4,300 acres required for the 10-million-tonne plant will be leased out by the state government for 99 years.

The government said the land is in its possession.

Although the proposed direct purchase will account for only a little over 10 per cent of the total requirement, this is the first time in recent memory that an industrial house will attempt to buy as much as 500 acres without government intervention.

For the Tata small car project in Singur and the Salim Group’s ventures, the state government had taken on the responsibility of full land acquisition. The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation — a government agency — has acquired 997 acres at Singur to be leased out to the Tatas.

The lease policy was introduced keeping in mind, among other factors, the reluctance of some industrial houses that had set up shop long ago to give up excess land. But the land unrest appears to have prompted a government rethink.

Asked whether the direct purchase path will be pursued in future, Bhattacharjee said the government would consider a number of models, including direct purchase, and decide on a case-by-case basis.

Industry sources said the government could be thinking of encouraging investors to buy land directly following the Nandigram debacle.

Officials pointed out that the Jindals may not have to acquire more than 90 acres of farmland. “They (Jindals) will pay very well (for the land), much more than they (the landowners) could earn. But even then, if there is any problem, we will go there,” Bhattacharjee said.

Sajjan Jindal, the vice-chairman and managing director of JSW Steel, was confident that there would not be any problem, barring some “minor pinpricks”. “There is no gain without pain. Industry cannot come up in air.”

Jindal promised to build a township around the steel plant and engage people in the neighbourhood through large-scale community development programmes.

Borrowing from Macbeth, Bhattacharjee labelled the Opposition’s objection to acquiring farmland “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

The chief minister said the move from agrarian to industrial society was inevitable. “JaraChhaya shunibir shantir neer chhoto chhoto gramguli’ dekhchhen, tara pichhoner dike takachhen (those with visions of ‘little hamlets, havens of peace, snuggled in the shade’ are looking backwards),” Bhattacharjee said, dipping into Tagore’s repertoire.