The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Party racing for business bus in 'farm capital'
- Will he or won't he'

Don't get misled by its 12ft/8ft measurement ' this is Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's war room at Singur.

'It's a matter of prestige for us. If we miss the bus this time, industrialisation will always remain a distant dream for Bengal,' says Ranjit Mondal, president of the Singur panchayat samiti.

Mondal and his team ' eight people ' meet in this room regularly so that Bengal doesn't miss the 'bus'. More like a car, really. The Rs 1-lakh car the Tatas plan to build here.

A narrow, unpaved lane, off the potholed Singur Bazaar Road, leads to the room on the ground floor of the Singur block compound.

Mutation papers, maps ' a pile of land-related documents lies on a table for samiti members to sift through. In one corner of the room Mondal checks the papers, using an old Casio calculator to tot up how much of the 1,200-odd acres that the project needs has been committed by farmers.

The chief minister has set a six-month deadline for land acquisition.

Happy with the progress, Mondal leans back and lights a cigarette. Smoke swirling around him, Mondal runs his eyes over the table. 'Around 750 farmers have voluntarily agreed to give up land. So, now we have 485 acres,' he says, smiling at CPM zonal committee secretary Suhrid Dutta.

Mondal, Dutta and six other members of the core committee have a target of 1,052 acres. Their mandate is to ensure smooth passage for the project. They meet landowners to collect data on land use and cropping pattern and then send these to Chinsurah, the Hooghly district headquarters.

'Everything related to the Tata project has been put on the fast track. Something like this has never happened in the state,' said a senior district official.

The district administration has set itself a four-month target, installed new computers and formed a team of over 100 people for the acquisition.

'The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation is buying the land from the government and we are in constant touch with it and the ministry of industries and commerce,' adds the official.

The urgency is a clear indication that the decision to make a transition from agriculture to industry has trickled down from Writers' Buildings to Alimuddin Street to the districts.

Take Paritosh Ghosh, who till a few months ago used to take pride in the agricultural achievements in Hooghly. Now he talks about industrialisation ' more jobs, business opportunities and higher standards of living.

The karmadhyaksh (offi-cial in charge) for agriculture, irrigation and co-operatives in the zilla parishad is blunt. 'Singur is no doubt the agri-cultural capital of Hooghly. Still the standard of living of farmers here is far from satisfactory.'

Almost echoing the gov- ernment's slogan 'agriculture is our base, industry our future', Ghosh says: 'Why is it that a farmer's son will always have to be a farmer'

But industry cannot come up without land. So the party that ensured a minimum landholding for farmers in the state through reforms now wants land back for a 'bigger' cause.

'Compensation will range between Rs 10 and 15 lakh an acre. We will set up a market complex near the plant and training centres to increase employability of the local people,' Mondal explains.

The ride for the people's car project has not been smooth. The united front of the Left has shown signs of division in the farm versus factory debate, Mamata Banerjee has sown paddy seeds in land earmarked for acquisition and not all farmers are convinced that giving up their land is the sensible decision to make.

The mood at the panchayat samiti office is, however, buoyant. Mondal and his colleagues are certain the attitude will change once people start getting cash against land.

'The resistance that you see here is nothing but the Opposition's gimmick. Land acquisition will be done in 10 phases and once people start receiving money, others will queue up to offer their land,' smiles Mondal.

Is transition from agriculture to industry all about money' That answer will not be known in six months.

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