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Hands-off cry on day of industry meet

Calcutta, Nov. 10: Industries minister Partha Chatterjee today replayed the government’s “hands-off” policy on Dubrajpur, executing an undeclared somersault and confounding industrialists on a day the chief minister was preparing to meet them.

At a 75-minute meeting with Chatterjee, the members of the Dubrajpur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee asked the government to intervene to ensure that DVC-Emta, which is setting up an open-cast mining project in the area, pays them higher prices for land. The delegation demanded higher prices not only for the 700-odd acres the company has acquired but also for the remaining 2,650 acres required.

Chatterjee made it clear to them that the acquisition process and the compensation were settled during the Left rule and the Trinamul government had nothing to do with it. He said the government would not intervene as its policy was against land acquisition for industry.

“The central power sector PSU got the land when the Left Front was in power. The price for the land was settled during the Left rule. The villagers are aware of this and are angry with them. We have nothing to do with this,” Chatterjee said after the meeting.

In 2010, the Left government had organised a meeting to fix land prices. Representatives of all parties, including Trinamul, DVC-Emta, government and the local panchayat were present.

The statements signal an undeclared shift as police officers had said yesterday that Chatterjee had been asking Rishikesh Meena, who was removed as Birbhum police chief following Tuesday’s clash, to extricate an excavator from the custody of the land protesters. Chatterjee has denied having given any such instruction.

Today’s comments came a few hours before chief minister Mamata Banerjee met industrialists at a social gathering.

Soon after Chatterjee’s statements, some industrialists said they were “confused” by the iteration of the “hands-off” policy as only yesterday Mamata, in the presence of Chatterjee, had assured a section of businessmen that the government would sort out any problem they had.

“This is speaking in two voices,” an industrialist said. “One day you say you will sort out our problems, the next day you speak about a hands-off policy. How will our problems be sorted out then?”

The industries minister, however, assured the farmers’ committee delegation that he would convey its grievances to the companies concerned.

“I have informed the chief minister about the situation. I have spoken to DVC and the villagers. I will talk to Emta officials soon. All the sides must come together for a peaceful solution. The villagers said they were not outsiders and if the company did something wrong, the government should look into it,” Chatterjee said.

Committee president Felaram Mandal said: “Our land was taken away to extract coal. The company will earn profit. The landlosers should get more compensation.”

The government also refused to give any assurance on the other demands of the committee. It turned down the clamour for a judicial probe into the clash, saying an administrative investigation was on. Chatterjee made no commitment on other demands like compensation for the villagers injured in alleged police firing and lathicharge, treatment and punishment for those “guilty”.

The committee said it would not allow the excavator to be handed over to DVC-Emta but added that it would not oppose if the police seized it and registered a case against the company.

Chatterjee assured the committee that the government was by the side of the farmers. “We are in favour of villagers. We love villagers. We are firm in our commitment against forcible acquisition of farmland,” the minister said.