The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha in balancing game
- Can’t afford to lose steam: CM

Calcutta, Jan. 14: Investors’ deadlines loom while many in the CPM want him to go slow on land acquisition. Caught between the two, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today did some tightrope-walking.

“There is no question of stepping back from industrialisation. But the transformation from agricultural to industrial economy would have to be gradual. We won’t go in for a hasty takeover of land as it may compromise our food security,” the chief minister told a meeting of agriculture technologists in Salt Lake this morning.

If anybody thought that was a hint at soft-pedalling on acquisition, they stood corrected by evening.

At a meeting at Rabindra Sarovar, Bhattacharjee told CPM supporters: “We have already started late. Now we can’t afford to lose steam, particularly when other states are wooing investors with lucrative incentives. It was hard enough convincing the Tatas to set up their small-car unit in Singur. The Salims (of Indonesia) are also being courted by other states.”

Party insiders described the two speeches as “complementary”. They said several CPM leaders, especially those from districts where some 50,000 acres would be acquired, had asked the chief minister “not to hurry” before next year’s panchayat polls.

But Bhattacharjee told them that the process of land acquisition must be notched up a gear in Nandigram and South 24-Parganas’ Bhangar-Baruipur after a “sustained political campaign over the two next months”.

He exhorted party workers to plunge into the campaign.

One reason for the chief minister’s sense of urgency is the September deadline for obtaining the Centre’s nod for the planned petrochem and chemical zone in Haldia. But after the Nandigram violence, he is willing to wait till the campaign is over.

“The chief minister wants to start with a clean slate in Nandigram after the troubles there. The mapping of the land earmarked for acquisition and the campaign to convince farmers would take some time,’’ said housing minister Gautam Deb, who had overseen the smooth takeover of farmland to build New Town Rajarhat and is now one of Bhattacharjee’s trouble-shooters.

Deb dismissed the doubters. “We lost the election in Haldia on the land issue but regained it. We will also wrest Singur and Bhangar in time. We can’t move ahead if we think only of electoral backlashes. Our job is to convince the people wherever land is acquired for development.”

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