Monday, November 3, 2008

Jindal steel plant inaugurated in Salboni, the delegates' convoy bombed

Pictures with message for Salboni

Salboni, Nov. 2: When Sajjan Jindal took the microphone on stage today, behind him was a sketch of a Bengal village, not an artist’s impression of JSW Bengal Steel Ltd.

On the sides were two huge pictures — one of an old, emaciated village woman and the other of a small girl.

The pictures were positioned to send a message to the people of Salboni, where the foundation stone was laid for the steel plant today.

“The elderly lady depicts the present. The young girl, who is her granddaughter, is the future,” said Biswadip Gupta, joint managing director of JSW Bengal Steel.

Wizcraft, the event manager, said the pictures of the old woman and the girl were taken a few months ago in a village near the plant.

Gupta said the company wanted to bring change into the lives of the residents, particularly the younger generation. “We wanted to connect with local people with the sketch and the photographs. When Wizcraft came up with the idea, we approved it.”

The rural connect mantra assumes significance at a time Tata Motors has moved out of the state because of a land agitation in Singur.

But did the Jindals really connect? Farmer Soumen Marik, who came from a nearby village, said: “I think both the young girl and the old lady are seeking development, which the plant can bring.”

What does the plant mean to him? “We may get jobs here. Farming is not profitable any more,” Soumen said.

The villagers stood in a barren field for over an hour to hear Jindal, Union steel minister Ram Vilas Paswan and state industries minister Nirupam Sen. But it was Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee they liked the best.

“He said there would be 10,000-12,000 jobs. I hope I get one,” said Uttam Chakraborty, a farmer’s son in his 20s.

The chief minister spoke of how the youth needed industry. “Kaaj, kaaj, kaaj, tara chay kaaj (jobs, jobs, jobs; they want jobs),” he said.

Bengal cannot survive only on agriculture, he added. “Can it? No country has been able to do so. We need industry.”

Bombed: Buddha’s consolation parade
Paswan pilot car attacked

Salboni, Nov. 2: An explosion struck a convoy carrying two Union ministers returning from a high-profile investment event in West Midnapore, the bomb going off soon after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s car had crossed the same spot this afternoon.

The attack blamed on Maoists not only exposed Bengal’s stupor in the face of recent blasts in the east but also overshadowed the stone-laying ceremony for the Jindal steel project in Salboni, an event that was supposed to lessen the Singur pain and breathe some life into the flagging industrialisation drive in Bengal.

Union steel minister Ram Vilas Paswan and his deputy Jitin Prasada escaped unhurt. But the attack shattered the bonhomie seen on the dais less than an hour ago, with Paswan frowning upon Bhattacharjee’s decision to leave early and questioning the security arrangements in the state.

Six guards in the lead pilot car of Paswan’s convoy suffered shrapnel injuries in the improvised landmine explosion. The condition of police driver Mukul Phul Mali (50) and constable Judhistir Mahato (24) — admitted to a hospital in Calcutta — is said to be critical.

In Paswan’s vehicle were Jitin and Jindal Steel vice-chairman and managing director Sajjan Jindal — all of whom were on the dais with a beaming Bhattacharjee at Salboni less than an hour ago. Navin, Sajjan’s brother and a Congress MP, was in another car.

Two police vehicles separated Paswan’s Innova and the pilot car that was lifted several feet off the ground in the explosion, suspected to have been triggered by Maoists who were apparently lying in wait a little over a kilometre away.

The bomb, planted near a bridge on Kalaichandi canal near Barua village, about 150 km from Calcutta, was ignited around 2.15pm using a 1,200-metre wire that snaked through adjacent paddy fields towards railway tracks, police said.

Around 15 people from nearby villages were detained tonight for questioning, the police said.

The pilot car landed on its wheels and its tyres burst but driver Mali managed to take the vehicle — which looked as if it had been raked with automatic fire — across the 15-foot-wide bridge and then slumped unconscious.

The convoy paused for less than a minute and then proceeded towards the Kalaikunda airbase 25km away, from where the ministers took off for Delhi.

The chief minister’s convoy had sped past the same stretch in Barua village 15 minutes before the blast. The police said he could have been the target and the Maoists might have mistaken Paswan’s convoy for Bhattacharjee’s.

“I don’t know whether I was the target. I will be able to tell you tomorrow. I have sent senior police officials to the blast site for investigation,” Bhattacharjee said later in the afternoon. Intelligence agencies have said the chief minister tops the list of Maoist targets.

According to the police, explosives were packed inside a plastic milk can — a tactic usually used by Maoists. “We think they used plastic instead of steel to get past metal detectors,” said an officer.

The last time the Maoists blew up a car was on October 22 when a doctor, a nurse and their driver were killed in Belpahari in West Midnapore. Metal milk cans were then used.

Today’s blast snapped overhead high-tension wires but there was no electricity in them as the lines were under construction. The police are wondering whether the attackers wanted the wires to fall on a vehicle and electrocute the occupants.

“If there was electricity in those wires, it would have been disastrous,” said Dilip Kumar Mitra, the superintending engineer of the state power distribution company in Midnapore.

The other injured are assistant sub-inspector of police Ranjit Mondal (51), constable Kartick Maity (26) and National Volunteer Force jawans Rabindranath Mahato (57) and Alakavo Chowdhury (41).

The Maoists had issued a public statement 10 days ago against the steel project and this afternoon’s meeting was finalised more than a month ago — despite which state police could not sanitise the route. The “heightened alert” in the wake of the serial blasts in Assam, too, did not help avert the explosion in Bengal.

Blast steels resolve: Jindal

Sajjan Jindal, the vice-chairman and managing director of JSW Steel, spoke to Sambit Saha of The Telegraph after the landmine blast.

I saw it happen in front of my eyes.

I left the venue soon after the media conference. Two Union ministers, Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada, were with me. I was sitting in the front seat of the Toyota Innova. My brother Navin Jindal was behind me in another car.

After 2pm, there was a deafening noise and a flying stone hit our car. I realised it was an explosion and I saw that the pilot car, which was 30 feet ahead of me, was badly hit.

The driver of the pilot car was injured and blood was oozing out. But his condition didn’t look serious to me then. As two central ministers were with me and worried whether it was an ambush, I told my driver to keep moving.

This incident has only strengthened my resolve to set up the plant and do it faster. I am not deterred by it at all. We just have to take extra precaution in the future.

Later, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee called me. He was very worried and asked me if everything was all right. I assured him that it was fine. In fact, I told him that he should take more care of himself.