The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha brings peace to front

Calcutta, Sept. 9: Twenty minutes. That's how long Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took to disarm Left partners who had earlier expressed serious reservations about his decision to convert farmland for industrial units and townships.

Leaders of the CPI, RSP and the Forward Bloc today relented as the chief minister told them about his 'plan of action' and sought their trust at a front meeting.

Stung by the allies' criticism that he was trying to 'bypass the Left Front on policy matters', an emotional Bhattacharjee said: 'I shall not do anything that may harm the pro-people and pro-poor policies being pursued by the front. I will not let you down.'

This was the chief minister's first formal interaction with the front leaders since returning from Singapore and Jakarta, where he signed deals with the Indonesia-based Salim Group, which has proposed to build a special economic zone, a township, a health city and set up industries.

After the meeting, MP Manoj Bhattacharya of the RSP said: 'We have trust in the chief minister's leadership and look forward to getting a detailed account of the Salim projects at our next meeting.'

Bhattacharjee is expected to elaborate on the projects at the front meeting to be held later this month.

Although many senior front leaders refused to comment, they were visibly satisfied with the outcome of the chief minister's interaction.

Bhattacharjee told the partners he has not sought any proposal for setting up a port or airport with 100 per cent foreign direct investment.

Allaying the allies' apprehension that they were being bypassed, the chief minister said he would like to meet their leaders more often and at regular intervals. 'I am ready to frequently meet you to discuss important issues as and when necessary,' he said.

Those who attended the meeting included Jyoti Basu, commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen and Kanti Ganguly, the minister for Sunderbans development.

Speaking about his drive to industrialise Bengal, Bhattacharjee said the Jindals would set up a steel factory somewhere between Kharagpur and Jhargram in East Midnapore.

The industries minister told the allies that acquiring land for the Salim projects will not pose a problem. 'We have noticed in the past that farmers come forward and hand over their land to the government on their own. We do not underestimate the importance of agriculture but we have to set up more industries and that requires land. We are trying to strike a balance between ind-ustrialisation and agricultural advancement,' he said.

Front chairman Biman Bose later told reporters that a map would be prepared to define the ratio of farmland and non-farm land. He said South 24-Parganas was selected for several Salim projects as it was the second most back- ward district after Purulia. Its connectivity, being close to Calcutta, was also a factor.

The RSP and CPI leaders urged the CPM not to neglect the government health sector because of the proposed health city near the airport.

'We should not forget that government hospitals treat about 70 per cent of our population,' a leader said.

As Bhattacharjee tried to placate the partners, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas and Jyoti Basu met leaders of the party's South 24-Parganas unit to clarify their doubts.

The duo stressed the need for industrialisation and assured that no farmland would be taken away by force.

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