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Information wilts on fertile land

Calcutta, May 25: The three plots in Hooghly district's Singur where the Tata Motors small car unit is slated to come up are rich and fertile, growing two to three and sometimes four crops a year.

'Sanapara, Mahishtigri and Bajumelia village along the Durgapur Expressway, which the Tata team visited today, are all part of the agrarian belt. It has fertile alluvial soil and a flat terrain suitable for farming,' said an agriculture department official.

Hooghly, he added, grows more crops than Burdwan, dubbed Bengal's rice bowl.

'While the western half of Burdwan, including Durgapur and Asansol, are agriculturally insignificant, the whole of Hooghly is fertile land and sees widespread cultivation. Besides, Hooghly is the only district where the cultivation of cash crops like potato and jute is carried out on a large scale,' the official said.

'There are areas where farmers grow jute in summer, then paddy till October and, subsequently, vegetables before winter sets in. In many areas, they manage to grow a fourth crop of quick-growing winter vegetables between October and December,' he added.

However, over 80 per cent of the farmer are marginal ' who own less than a hectare ' and they do not earn much.

Although the government has promised employment to marginal farmers who are displaced, not many are sure of a year-long job. 'We work on someone else's field. If displaced, the owner will get compensation for his land, but what'll we do' asked Mahendranath Ghosh, a landless labourer in Bajumelia village.

Land owners, too, are not sure how much they will get as compensation, though the state had announced a detailed price policy earlier this week.

The government had said land owners would be given compensation equivalent to 100 per cent of the value of their land plus 30 per cent, and 10 per cent of the land value if the evicted person undertakes not to go to court. The government will pay a 12 per cent interest for delayed payment of the land price.

Dipak Adhikary, of Berabari under Singur police station, says he is happy with his income. 'I grow three crops annually ' paddy, potato and jute ' and earn enough to maintain my household. How long will the one-time compensation last me'

While industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen said it was important to first explain to the farmers the 'beneficial aspects' of acquiring their land, state commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen pointed out that it is not always possible to hold talks with residents.

'Investors have to see the land first and then decide. We can't always explain the project to the people beforehand.'

Today, residents of Bajumelia gave vent to their apprehensions when Tata Motors officials came to inspect the small car unit site.

The incident, the Singur CPM said, underlines the need for a dialogue with local bodies before undertaking such an exercise.

'The process of earmarking land for industry should not be a hasty one and talks with the locals are a must. We're sure that employment opportunities would be created for marginal farmers solely dependent on land,' the CPM's All-India Krishak Sabha and party state committee member, Samar Baora, said.

The villagers are not the only ones feeling let down. Agriculture minister Naren De is sulking because he wasn't consulted before finalising the compensation package for displaced farmers. 'I don't know what the package is. I don't know which land in Singur is going to be acquired for the Tata project,' said De, Forward Bloc MLA from Chinsurah in Hooghly.

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