| Farmers at the hotel. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury
Calcutta, Oct. 4: Haradhan Bauri had never dreamt of lunching at a five-star hotel. He did that today with 50-odd fellow farmers from Purulia after they had all watched the state government and Jai Balaji Group ink a pact for a five-million-tonne steel plant.
Till now, it was the investor who made the trip to the project area. That concept of inspection tours was reversed in Bengal today with farmers who have land to sell invited to Calcutta to inspect the investment process for the Rs 16,000-crore integrated steel, cement and power plants in Raghunathpur, Purulia.
Minutes earlier, Videocon Industries had signed a memorandum of understanding for a Rs 15,000-crore steel and power plant, to be set up in Burdwan possibly with the help of a US company.
“Aapnara onek koshto kore bus e kore eshechhen (you have endured a strenuous bus ride),” Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sympathised with his special guests at the venue, a hotel off EM Bypass, amid loud applause.
The chief minister had reason to be grateful: the farmers from Raghunathpur represent the ideal face of his embattled industrialisation drive. The Jai Balaji project will create jobs in one of Bengal’s poorest districts, and the low-yielding soil has made Bauri and his friends more than willing to sell their land.
“Our land is not fertile. If we have a good monsoon, we grow a single crop. Else, hardly anything,” Janmejoy Majee said.
Videocon is yet to start acquisition but chairman Venugopal Dhoot said there was hardly any farmland at the site, located on the banks of the Ajay at Barabani, Burdwan.
The government, which has begun acquiring land in Raghunathpur, says the response has been good. “All the political parties are supporting the acquisition,” said industry minister Nirupam Sen.
Bauri, Janmejoy, Sanatan Paramanik, Karuna Sindhu Majee and the rest echoed him.
“We are getting between Rs 1.9 lakh and Rs 10 lakh an acre depending on the quality of the land,” said Bauri, who has promised the whole of his two-acre plot.
“Etodin chash korchhilam, ebar karkhana te kaaj korbo. Ami na holeo amar chhele to pabe (We had been farming so far, now we’ll work in the factory. Even if I don’t get a job, my son surely will),” Janmejoy, whose family owns 20 acres, said.
If Sen is right, there must be Trinamul Congress supporters in the group, too' “There are some,” Paramanik insisted. “Just can’t seem to spot them at the moment.”
The project will come up on 3,500 acres, spread across 11 mouzas. Jai Balaji had to shift the original site to avoid homestead land. The company has promised an institute to train the farmers for factory jobs.
Bhattacharjee is expected to visit the area on October 16. He stressed how important it was to open industries in Purulia, where 900 villages are extremely poor. “The factory will create thousands of jobs,” he said.
Bauri and the others stood in a line at a corner, listening. Then they were led outside for the buffet.