The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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State, learn from State Bank
- Why Bengal should wake up from land slumber

Salboni, July 18: Blinking back bewilderment, Nitai Mahata held up the cheque: Fifteen lac fifty thousand eight hundred seventy five only.

Once the flashbulbs exploded, the farmer betrayed little of the nerves as he strode towards the State Bank of India (SBI) counter to deposit the cheque. From among a thicket of bank counters, he knew which one to pick because the SBI had done its homework.

That is something the Bengal government cannot claim to have accomplished as the first land compensation disbursement since Singur got off the ground in Salboni today.

Nitai was among the 13 from five families who got compensation today for handing over land to the Jindals for setting up a steel plant in West Midnapore. The remaining families — around 720 — will be given cheques over the next few months.

Money in hand — and now in the bank — Nitai wants to “sit back and enjoy” for some time. After that' He is not sure. Neither are his sons on whom has fallen the responsibility of deciding what to do with the cash they got for over 5 acres.

Many are also unaware that a unique experiment in industrialisation — born in the face of stubborn backlashes elsewhere against land acquisition — has entitled them to something called equity.

When the plant comes up, Nitai and his family will be eligible for shares worth the cheque amount for free — an incentive thought up by the Jindals after they decided to buy directly from landowners 450 of the 4,400 acres needed.

Share-er katha shunechhi. Ki jinish ta jani na (I have heard of shares. But don’t know what it is),” said Subhankar Manna, 35.

Unlike Nitai, Subhankar stands to get only Rs 1.2 lakh as the size of his land is much smaller and he has to share the total amount with his brother.

Subhankar knows that the amount won’t last long but he would have been less worried had he known what owning shares means.

Subhankar also does not know that he has a 50 per cent chance to get a job in the 3-million-tonne plant that could come up in three to four years. The Jindals have promised one job for each of the 725 families affected by the acquisition.

Still, there is hardly any opposition to acquisition because of natural adversities — the land is arid and farm-ing is a risky business — not because of intervention by the industrialisation machinery of the government and the CPM.

If the party and the government have left it to natural forces — lack of information has often been blamed for the violent reaction of people to anything to do with land — the SBI had hit the ground running when it heard that Rs 120 to 135 crore of cash will soon be swishing around the area.

The bank identified all the affected landowners, and employees went to work convincing many to open accounts. Binoy Kumar Roy, the manager of SBI’s Sayedpur branch, said 500 accounts were opened in the last few months, including 157 on a single day.

Roy plans to upgrade the facilities further at his branch offering demat (paperless) accounts to hold the shares the Jindals will give to the land-sellers. Such an account is mandatory for dealing in shares.

But the SBI can’t be expected to provide all the answers. A social problem is also brewing within families that have many members. If many members of a family depend on the land, it will be difficult to nominate one person to be trained by the Jindals for the promised job.

Asim Chalak, who has six brothers, said: “If the personal relations are not good, selecting one for the job will be a big problem.”

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