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Didi on Singur mind, not CM

Singur, Jan. 8: Singur wants maati as well as the money, and believes Mamata Banerjee will deliver both.

Haripada Das is among those who think Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government has reached the end of the road, not a good augury for the chief minister a day before his first rally here since the exit of Tata Motors in October 2008.

“I am confident that Trinamul will win the elections and Didi will fulfil her promises. We want our land back,” said the 66-year-old from Beraberi village who “lost” one bigha to the Nano factory. The father of four is among the “unwilling” farmers, those who had refused to take compensation from the government.

Both the willing and the unwilling farmers are veering around to the view that it is Mamata, not Bhattacharjee, who may have the answers to the krishi (agriculture) versus shilpa (industry) debate that has divided Bengal.

Singur, like other parts of Bengal, believes the winds of change are blowing Mamata’s way. It also hopes that once she is in power, she will be able to unwrap a double bonanza: return the 400 acres allegedly acquired forcibly and at the same time, help set up a factory on the remaining 600 acres.

Farmer Das embodies such hopes. He claims that if he got back his land, it would still be possible to cultivate it. But would he actually do that? Land prices had jumped to Rs 30 lakh an acre compared with Rs 8.7-12.76 lakh per acre the government had promised owners who agreed to sign consent papers that took away their right to fight legally.

Das grinned and let the proverbial cat out of his bag: “I want the factory to come up. And I want my land back. Do you have any idea how valuable my land would be? The sky is the limit.” Would he sell then? “Who knows what I will do,” he chuckles.

Ratan Bag had also refused to take compensation for his 3.5 bighas. “If I get a good price for my land, I will sell. I would have done so had the government offered more,” the 42-year-old said. Like Das, Bag hopes Mamata will get his land back.

But the Trinamul chief, blamed for driving out the Tatas with her agitation, will not have it easy. Not only is there no legal sanction to “return” land acquired for a “public purpose”, the “willing” farmers might also want their plots back.

“Whoever comes to power in Calcutta, we want the factory to come up. But if the government decides to return the land, I also want mine back,” said Bikash Pakhira, 33. The resident of Joymolla had given his 32-bigha plot (nearly 11 acres). But Pakhira had benefited from the Tata venture: he was an apprentice the Tatas had taken to Pune for training.

“Those who are crying over farmland being gobbled up for industry should know that very few plots now belong to farmers on either side of the Durgapur Expressway. If the farmers get good money, they will sell,” Pakhira said, sipping his tea at a roadside stall. Mamata should have agreed when the state had offered 50 per cent more compensation, he said.

But Mahadeb Das, a self-styled leader of the jomi andolon forum, criticised the government. “If Tata Motors wanted to build a plant, they should have directly negotiated the price.” His family had to give up four acres but did not take compensation.

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