Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Job promise in writing, then land

ob promise in writing, then land

Raghunathpur (Purulia), Oct. 16: A serious dose of industrialisation is headed the way of one of the country’s 15 poorest districts, but Parbati Majhi is not celebrating yet.

The Purulia farmer is prepared to sell his land only if he gets a legally binding assurance of a job and not just oral promises from the chief minister. And only if the price is right.

More than half a century after it was added to Bengal, Purulia now expects to get on the state’s industrial map. Three steel plants are set to come up in the district, bringing a combined investment of nearly Rs 25,000 crore and holding the promise of thousands of jobs.

“We are ready to sell our plots for the projects,” Majhi, who is in his forties, said. “But not without written commitments from the companies for jobs.”

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today promised that 90 per cent of the new jobs would go to the local population. The chief minister was speaking after laying the foundation stone for the Rs 16,000-crore steel, cement and power plant planned by the Jai Balaji Group at Raghunathpur. The other two steel plants are to be built by Adhunik Corporation and Shyam Steel.

“We are creating facilities so that farmers can be given technical training. They should be equipped to work in a steel plant. Local people should get the jobs,” Bhattacharjee said.

But the farmers are not convinced. “I am not sure I can learn the skills to work in a factory,” said Swapan Bouri of Durmut, a village that must give up the bulk of its land for the Jai Balaji factories.

The villagers have another worry. Just one job per landloser family — as the Jindals have promised at Salboni, West Midnapore, where they are to set up a steel plant — is not good enough.

“If four brothers are dependent on the same plot, how will a single job help? It will create more problems,” said Majhi, whose family owns about 20 acres.

The price of land could also become a hurdle. The government has offered Rs 1.9 lakh an acre as the minimum price for fallow land but the farmers want Rs 3 lakh.

Company officials and the administration are hopeful of peaceful acquisition with all-party support. But even if that happens, the government will still have a lot more on its hands.

Bhattacharjee today admitted that the infrastructure needed development. The single-lane, 55km stretch from NH2 to Raghunathpur is little more than a village road. The government must also ensure good water supply to the factories.