The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Package skirts Singur ‘blunder’

Calcutta, June 19: The Bengal government’s Singur package does not offer quick-fix solutions but banks on an expected ripple effect to help land-losers and avert what it has termed a “Himalayan blunder”.

The policy, announced by industry minister Nirupam Sen today, steers clear of job promises, higher compensation and return of acquired land in Singur, the site of Tata Motors’ small-car project.

Instead, the package showcases the government’s efforts to provide vocational training to at least one member of each affected family to prepare them to exploit opportunities likely to mushroom around the automobile plant.

The absence of “populist” surprises – the package is in line with what Sen had told The Telegraph last week — has disappointed the Opposition as well as the CPM’s allies.

Mamata Banerjee has dubbed the package “rotten” and threatened to step up her agitation, further clouding the prospects of a peace initiative that was originally confined to Nandigram.

Some allies are also expected to voice their disenchantment at a Left Front meeting tomorrow. However, referring to the package, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “This is our stand.”

The government said the package is modelled on ground realities.

“If someone says that changing the location of the small-car plant would have solved all the problems relating to land acquisition, I do not accept it. Doing that would have been a Himalayan blunder,” Sen said on a day Jyoti Basu, the veteran of a historic blunder, listed the achievements of 30 years of Left Front rule in Bengal.

Some industry analysts suggested that “re-skilling” might be a more viable option in the long run than offering consolation jobs in an automobile plant that requires skilled labour.

Ancillary units scheduled to come up near the mother plant are expected to outsource a host of jobs. The nature of the training programmes included in the package suggests the government is hoping to help the land-losers tap the opportunity.

Although no direct job has been promised, the package asks “project-affected persons interested in seeking alternative opportunities to register their names” with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.

Basu suggested that the party expects the small units to give preference to people in the neighbourhood while hiring. “It will be the locals who would get jobs there. So they can demand jobs,’’ he added.

Sen refused to return land acquired from “unwilling farmers”. However, the minister said bargadars (sharecroppers) who could not get their names recorded would receive the same compensation as those who could.

Not surprisingly, Mamata rubbished the package. “It is a rotten one designed to clear the way for the Tatas to go ahead with their construction.” She said a “foreign company” had a stake in the Tata project, a claim the company denied.

Asked if he would again meet Mamata, Basu expressed his reluctance, saying: “I have already met her and tried to reason with her.’’

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