Singur/Calcutta, May 25: A small incident where villagers surrounded a visiting Tata Motors team demonstrated today how delicate the task of acquiring land for industry is going to be for the Left Front government.
Nearly 1,000 villagers at Singur in Hooghly district shouted: “Go back Tata. Rakta debo tobu jomi debona (we will give blood but not our land). We won’t allow a factory to come up on our homes and farmland.”
The Tata team had driven up the Durgapur Expressway to Bajumelia village, about 45 km from Calcutta, to inspect land for their small-car unit.
As soon as the villagers saw strangers inspecting the land with maps, a youth shouted: “Go back Tata.” This triggered a deluge and villagers came running.
“The policy of inviting rich investors at the cost of poor farmers must stop. We will not surrender our two-crop land at any cost,” said Shankar Ghosh, a farmer.
Some children lay in front of the cars. Taken aback, Tata officials, led by A.S. Puri, a deputy general manager, scurried back to their cars.
Arabinda Mukherjee, a deputy manager of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation who was among the government officials that accompanied the Tata team, later said: “They told me they are not used to such agitation. I assured them that this was an isolated incident.”
The demonstration continued for about 40 minutes till a police team arrived and the villagers dispersed.
Although the area is represented by a Trinamul MLA, industries minister Nirupam Sen said there was no political instigation. “The people were surprised to see outsiders. We’ve asked the district magistrate to sit with the villagers and people’s representatives and explain to them the government policy and the compensation,” he said.
Industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen admitted that it had been mistake not to have informed the local people of the visit.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee dismissed the incident with the comment: “Nothing has happened.”
An isolated protest may not be a big incident, but with some 31,750 acres to be acquired for industry in six months, his government had better be careful.