Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 4 of Mamata's dharna in Singur

Truck? Mamata won’t budge
- Plea to clear road rejected

Aug. 27: The Trinamul Congress today turned down truck operators’ appeal to at least leave one flank of Durgapur Expressway open for a few hours so that goods carriers stran- ded since Sunday could make a move.

Mamata Banerjee said her party was not responsible for the impasse, adding that if the state was keen to end it, it would have returned 400 acres to the unwilling farmers.

The result: the line of stranded trucks kept getting longer and thousands of tonnes of fruits and vegetables continued to rot on the road.

In the afternoon, representatives of a truck operators’ association met leader of Opposition Partha Chatterjee.

After a recce of the stranded vehicles down the road, they met the Trinamul leader again this evening with the same appeal, but in vain.

“From Shaktigarh in Burdwan, the pile of trucks has almost reached Chirkunda on the Bengal-Jharkhand border. Some 20,000 trucks are stuck and vegetables and other essential supplies are rotting,” said Satyajit Majumder of the Federation of West Bengal Truck Operators’ Association.

“Unless some alternative is worked out, the situation will become unbearable for truck operators.”

Some of the trucks could be diverted from Mogra, Hooghly, towards Delhi Road, but that would mean a detour of about 300km and the drivers are resisting it.

“We have told the truck operators that if they are concerned about the decaying, they should also pause to think that we are fighting for a cause that would save land for vegetables to grow in the future,” said Chatterjee.

The government wants to wait and watch and not apply force to lift the Trinamul blockade, apparently to create public opinion against Mamata Banerjee as prices of fish and vegetables keep rising.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting with chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb, home secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti, director-general of police A.B. Vohra, inspector-general (law and order) Raj Kanojia and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen.

Sen said the stalemate had to be resolved through talks but added that people “wouldn’t like” the blockade as it would hit them hard.

He said: “It is known that the truckers will suffer huge losses as their goods will perish. But what about the common man? They will have to fork out more for essentials if the blockade continues and that’s something they won’t like. That will certainly mount pressure on the protesters and probably make them realise that normality has to be restored.”

“Persuasion”, he added, was a better option for the government than using force.

IG Kanojia said the Hooghly administration was “talking to the leaders of the Singur movement and trying to persuade them” to lift the blockade. “We are trying to open one flank of the expressway.”


Govt reveals deal details

Calcutta, Aug. 27: The deal with Tata Motors was read out to the Assembly standing committee on commerce and industry this afternoon but the sole Trinamul Congress member on the panel skipped the meeting.

Industries minister Nirupam Sen told the meeting that it was not possible to hand over a copy of the agreement without the Tatas’ consent. “According to the right to information act, a document where a third party is involved can’t be made public.”

Industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen, who attended the meeting, read out the text of the agreement to the committee chaired by the Congress’s Sudip Bandopadhyay.

Nirupam Sen added that he had explained the deal to the committee, detailing the concessions being provided to Tata Motors. “I have cleared all doubts of the members.”

The Tatas had to be given the concessions to ensure that the project did not go to some other state. “We compensated them on three counts — by not taking any lease premium on the land, by providing a soft loan of Rs 200 crore to neutralise the excise duty and by giving a refund on VAT,” Sen said.

“The Tatas, however, will have to pay an annual rent, and pay for their water and electricity,” he added.

According to a committee member, Uttarakhand offers 100 per cent exemption from excise duty for 10 years. There is also 100 per cent exemption from corporate tax for the first five years with 30 per cent exemption for the next five years.

“As the excise duty on small cars has been slashed from 16 per cent to 12 per cent, the soft loan provided by the government is likely to be revised downwards,” Sen said.

Bandopadhyay felt the rent was “meagre”. “It is only Rs 1 crore for the first five years with a 25 per cent increase every five years for the next 30 years. Between 30 years and 60 years, the increase will be 30 per cent every 10 years. At the end of 90 years, the rent will amount to Rs 20 crore. We think this is a very meagre amount,” he said.