Thursday, April 12, 2007

For first time, Opp has chosen right issue but roll back will be disaster for CPM: CM’s No. 2

For first time, Opp has chosen right issue but roll back will be disaster for CPM: CM’s No. 2

Subrata Nagchoudhury / Bidyut Roy

Posted online: Thursday, March 29, 2007

KOLKATA, March 28: If West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today underlined the economic necessity of his industrialisation policy, his Industries Minister Nirupam Sen has said there is a political necessity, too.

“We are committed to the road to industrialization even at a political risk. It’s a political compulsion for us to pursue the growth of industry. Abandoning it will be a disaster for the state of West Bengal and for the CPM as well,” Sen, considered the No 2 in Bhattacharjee’s Cabinet, told The Indian Express in a recent, exclusive interview.

Asked to explain how, Sen said: “We will have to win public trust and and make people realize why land-reforms that we introduced is not an end in itself. There is growing landlessness, it’s non-farm jobs that are showing an upward swing. And we are seeing the arrival of the first-generation educated among the farmers and almost all of them are keen on non-agricultural activity. The viability of agriculture is becoming lower and lower. Small farmers do not have the capital or the land to introduce technology to upgrade yields. So if we cannot reduce the pressure on agriculture, there will be a disaster.”

According to the latest NSSO report, in West Bengal, 78.8% of households have cultivable landholdings less than an acre — almost 16 points higher than the national average of 62. Other figures illustrate Sen’s point. Of the 2125 from the families of Singur landlosers who have enrolled themselves for various training workshops, 295 are college graduates, 48 are technical diploma-holders, 324 have cleared Class XII, 420 have cleared Class X. Even among the 540 landless who have enrolled, 18 are college graduates, 5 are technical diploma-holders, 36 have cleared Class XII and 70 have cleared the Class X Board exams.

Sen has also admitted that the party erred in handling the Nandigram issue. “The unfortunate, tragic firing has been a setback and made our job more difficult,” he said. “In Nandigram, the party was just preparing for meetings and negotiations. But trouble began before that and we were not able to do anything in terms of reaching out to the people. One thing, however, is true. The Opposition, for the first time, has probably chosen the right issue to fire the imagination of the masses against the ruling party. Land is an emotive, sensitive issue. It has given the Opposition a handle to claim they are pro-peasant and pro-farmer and the Left is against farmers.”

At the same time, Sen emphasized that the opposition to land acquisition should not be seen in mere political terms. “There are apprehensions, there are fears and these need to be addressed. Nandigram has certainly been a good lesson for us. The lesson is that the apprehension of the farmer should not be missed. It is this apprehension where we have been caught on the wrong foot. As an Opposition, there will be parties that will continue to disrupt the process. But if we take into account the apprehensions of the people, of the farmer, we will be able to do it. That’s the biggest challenge for us now, to have confidence-building measures for farmers, local residents and investors. The perception of West Bengal as an investment and development destination has changed. We have to ensure that people are not left out of this development process.”

Explaining the Government’s stand on Nandigram, Sen said that a consultant had been engaged to explore the area’s potential to be developed as a Petro-chemical Chemicals Petroleum Investment Region (PCPIR). “The Centre formulated a policy of setting up 8 such PCPIRs in the country where large investments would be made. Interested states were asked to give presentations before the government of India about suitable locations. We selected Haldia and made a presentation. Haldia already has Haldia Petrochemicals, Mitsubishi chemicals. Indian Oil Corporation agreed to be the anchor investor. The Centre agreed to our proposal. But as per its specification, the minimum area of a PCPIR is 250 sq km. Also Haldia being a river port, there was no scope for large vessels to come in. Therefore, we were preparing a feasibility report with the help of companies for a deep sea port so that Haldia and its adjoining areas become a regional industrial hub for South Asia. It was a long term vision plan for the state.”

It was the consultant’s advice, Sen said, to look for “land in and around Haldia and that is how Nandigram came into the picture.”

“The area has remained in the backyard of the coastal belt, devoid of development,” said Sen. “That’s why, at this stage, we cannot give the idea of abandoning the project. It is very very important for the state, for the region. May be the government will now have to think of the chemical hub minus Nandigram.”

To send a signal that the government’s policy is on track, Sen said, “we have to pursue the non-controversial projects with greater care.” For example, the proposed steel factory in Salboni in West Midnapore and industrial projects in Purulia and Bankura.

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