Calcutta, Aug. 5: The biggest policy battle in the Bengal CPM since Jyoti Basu’s industrial policy of 1994 erupted today over use of land for industrialisation.
“Let me be very clear, our government is determined to carry out the planned industrialisation, for which we will arrange land for willing investors,” said state CPM secretary Anil Biswas.
“Akashe shilpo hoy na (industry can’t be built in air),” he added.
Biswas made the statement at a party forum a day after a section of the CPM, with support from some allies and the Opposition, scuttled the government’s attempt to amend the legislation to remove the rural land ceiling.
The amendment would have made acquisition of land for industrial use or to build townships, among other things, easier.
As the amendment fell through, it was seen as a setback to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in his industrialisation effort.
Biswas made it clear that the party apparatus was solidly behind the chief minister, almost daring leaders who had opposed the amendment to stand up and resist.
“Make no mistake, there are 277,000 members in the CPM and another two crore with frontal and mass organisations, who will be directed to rally behind the government to enable it to carry out industrialisation,” Biswas said
The party’s peasant wing leader, Benoy Konar, whose reservations about the amendment are well known, was present when Biswas addressed CPM faithful on the 117th birth anniversary of Muzaffar Ahmed, one of the party founders. Jyoti Basu, who supports Bhattacharjee, was there, too.
“A well-planned campaign is under way, seeking to portray our government as attempting to grab agricultural land for handing over to investors for industrial ventures,” Biswas said.
Bhattacharjee had left moments ago, having already briefed the leadership about the repercussions of the failure to push through the amendment that would have removed the 17.5-acre ceiling.
Two projects could immediately get affected ' one is the proposal of Indonesia’s Salim Group to set up a township and the other a steel plant of the Jindals.
After coming to power, the CPM carried out comprehensive land reforms that had been hailed across the country as a model and won the confidence of the landless and the poor farmer who have kept it in power for more than a quarter century.
Leaders like Konar and Abdur Rezzak Molla, the land minister who has spearheaded opposition to the amendment, are a product of that phenomenon. Molla said today there should be a wider debate on land-use pattern, leading to a consensus.
In a way, the CPM is hostage to its past. Bhattacharjee and Biswas are trying to cut the umbilical cord, an act that is bound to cause bloodshed.
“If we do not undertake a serious industrialisation drive, we are accused of being indifferent to the need for industrialisation and will be criticised if investment goes to Maharashtra or Gujarat. When we get serious about industrialisation, false alarms are raised about (agricultural) land,” Biswas said.