Sunday, September 21, 2008

Result of a 2-day meeting between the government of West Bengal and the Opposition

What a letdown!
- Mamata rejects Buddha’s ‘best’ deal

Calcutta, Sept. 12: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee this evening took to Mamata Banerjee a package offering more land inside the complex, higher compensation for landlosers, jobs and development projects.

All to no avail as Mamata played the same old record: 300 acres inside or nothing.

Efforts to save the Singur project are expected to continue tomorrow. However, unless both sides pull off a breakthrough soon, the Tatas are expected to make up their mind by Monday. Some equipment has already been shifted out of the factory, sources said.

“As far as I know, the Tatas have informed Nirupam (Sen) that they would decide whether to stay here or not by 14-15 September,’’ CPM state secretariat member Benoy Konar told The Telegraph.

A deal had looked tantalisingly close when Bhattacharjee and Mamata met at Calcutta Information Centre in the Nandan complex, the Trinamul leader carrying a jhola that made an ideal companion at the poet-chief minister’s favourite hangout.

However, one hour and five minutes later, an agitated Mamata marched out, followed sometime later by an ashen-faced Bhattacharjee.

In between, Bhattacharjee offered Mamata 67 acres inside the Nano complex — 47 belonging to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) and 20 from space reserved for a pond meant to meet environment rules. The Tatas agreed to spare the patch after officials got in touch with them.

The chief minister also put on the table what officials described as “India’s best rehabilitation” package (see chart).

However, her gaze fixed on the coming elections, Mamata said she would not settle for anything less than 300 acres inside the project and another 100 acres outside.

When Mamata kept repeating “300 acres”, one of the government representatives asked: “What is the point in dragging the negotiations?”

Realising on her way out that she might have pushed the government a little too far this time, Mamata said: “We can always meet and talk again.”

After the meeting, the chief minister conveyed to governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi the outcome and Mamata’s intransigence.

Gandhi and Bhattacharjee are expected to meet tomorrow, after which a delegation from Trinamul will call on the governor with whom Mamata spoke before setting out for the session with the chief minister. The Left Front will also meet tomorrow to review the situation.

The meeting between Bhattacharjee and Mamata — the third since the maiden one this Sunday and the first without a minder like governor Gandhi — came about without notice.

The groundwork for the evening meeting was laid by housing minister Gautam Deb and Trinamul legislature wing leader Partha Chatterjee who met for close to two hours at Deb’s office in Salt Lake. Industries minister Nirupam Sen, Trinamul’s pet hate, did not attend any meeting today, apparently because he was “unwell”.

Once their session on how best the two sides could advance towards an agreement came to an end, Deb and Chatterjee informed their respective leaders of the need for a discussion on plausible areas of consensus.

Before calling the chief minister, Deb, according to CPM sources, had a long talk with Mamata during which she showed enthusiasm for the package.

A source quoted Mamata as telling a Trinamul leader present in the room: “It seems they have formulated a workable solution. If they are able to accommodate my main demand (land-based rehabilitation inside the project) in some way, I should not be having any problem in extending my co-operation.”

Caught by surprise by the “about-turn” at the meeting, Trinamul sources offered two explanations.

One, Mamata assumed that she could extract more from Bhattacharjee. Two, they blamed some associates and fringe groups who apparently told Mamata she stood to reap dividends if the issue was kept alive till the Lok Sabha elections.

The CPM reacted with dismay. “I was informed by Buddhababu that the meeting collapsed,” said state CPM secretary Biman Bose. “It’s an unfortunate development. I do not want to give up hope, but it is evident they (Trinamul) do not want to co-operate.”

Another senior CPM leader said: “It’s better if she realises soon that the government does not have infinite patience.”