| Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Burnpur on Sunday. Picture by Aranya Sen
Burnpur, Dec. 24: Some years ago, these words from a visiting Prime Minister — “Bengal must join the march of progress and benefit from the rapid economic growth in the country” — would have sounded hollow.
Today, from the site of the country’s oldest integrated steel plant and with nearly Rs 10,000 crore to back up the exhortation, the goal Manmohan Singh set for the state did not seem unrealistic.
If the money Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) spends here to modernise IISCO has the potential to restore the glory of this industrial region that had fallen upon bad times, the Prime Minister made it clear that in Bengal’s “march of progress” he would match Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee step for step.
Nor for once did he mention Singur and the controversy around it, but warned those who might be coming in the way of industrialisation that failure was unacceptable.
“It (Bengal) cannot slip up,” Singh said, stressing the need to catch up with the “more developed parts of the country”.
“Bengal needs modern industries and the jobs that come with it. It needs a process of industrialisation which is employment intensive, welfare enhancing and, on the whole, human and just,” Singh said, flagging off the landmark Rs 9,600-crore modernisation.
Bhattacharjee, who spoke before him, used the same language.
“We have to move ahead. There cannot be any turning back. The state has had success in agriculture, it has now turned around in industry, too,” Bhattacharjee said, also giving Singur the slip, though in the background of the Prime Minister’s visit there was a buzz of activity to see if Mamata Banerjee could be persuaded to end her fast.
Bhattacharjee looked happy and thanked the Prime Minister and steel minister Ram Vilas Paswan for IISCO’s revival, but was hungry for more. The chief minister’s wish list included modern as well as traditional industries — knowledge and automobiles, and manufacturing.
The Prime Minister also spoke of the concerns being expressed across the political spectrum about the future of the people losing land to industry, an issue over which Mamata is agitating. Yesterday, she had sought the Prime Minister’s intervention as she saw Singur as a part of the nationwide debate on acquisition of farmland.
“Every section of society should benefit from the spin-off from industrialisation,” Singh said.
The Prime Minister’s trip this time, possibly as a simple coincidence, appeared more like a pilgrimage to monuments to Bengal’s glory. “It was here at Kulti that the first modern iron-making unit in India was started more than a century ago. It was here in Bengal that the industrialisation of India began,” he said.
Back in Calcutta, the Prime Minister paid homage to another pioneer — the Indian Statistical Institute founded in 1931 by P.C. Mahalanobis, the father of statistics in India. The institute conferred on the Prime Minister the honorary degree of doctor of science.