Sen effect on land debate - Farm ok but no force: Trinamul

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By OUR BUREAU in Calcutta
  • Published 23.07.07
Amartya Sen’s interview in Monday’s Telegraph

Calcutta, July 23: Amartya Sen’s reasoning has forced the Opposition to tweak its logic for objecting to industry on farmland.

Fertile land can be used for industry as long as the acquisition is not forcible, the Trinamul Congress has said in response to the Nobel laureate’s interview published in The Telegraph today.

Sen had said in the interview that “locations of great industry… were all on heavily fertile land” and that “prohibiting the use of agricultural land for industries is ultimately self-defeating”. He had added that preventing industrialisation was “not in the interest of Bengal…, the poor in particular”.

“I have gone through Prof. Sen’s interview which says that there is no harm if farmland is taken for industry. But we believe that he hadn’t looked at Singur as closely as he was required to. The question is whether fertile land can be taken by force. Our state can’t afford to move away from highly productive land as that in Singur. Mamata Banerjee had demanded that the land of unwilling owners be returned. Sen bypassed this crucial issue,” Trinamul Congress MLA Saugata Roy said.

Neither Trinamul nor Roy will concede it but the statement reflected the dilemma of the Opposition in rejecting the arguments of an economist of Sen’s stature.

A subtle shift in Trinamul’s stand in public also could not be masked. The party today stressed that “forcible” acquisition is the operative phrase but such distinctions were hardly made earlier.

On May 21, Mamata had said in Haldia: “We are opposed to acquisition of farmland for the (chemical hub). It cannot come up at the cost of the livelihood of farmers.” The hub could only be developed on land “unfit for cultivation”.

On April 22, she had said committees would be floated across Bengal for a “vigorous movement against acquisition of farmland”.

Today, the party said if farmers “willingly” gave land, there is “no harm” in using it for industry.

The change of tone, however inaudible it is, could be based not only on reluctance to publicly criticise Sen but also because of a perception that few farmers will sell their land voluntarily.

Which brings to the fore another point raised by Sen that can play a crucial part in persuading farmers to consider their options.

The economist felt that the government has committed a tactical mistake by not exploring the possibility of maximising the land price in Singur. The government rate was less than what the value would have been had the land been free for competition among industries.

“On this point, we think that Sen is absolutely right,” Roy said.

But those who are now in a position to make a difference — such as industry minister Nirupam Sen — are not convinced.

“I do not agree with that point. We stand for government intervention in land acquisition for industry and infrastructure to protect the interest of the farmers. Given the nature of land-holding in Bengal, thousands of small plot-owners would not be able to negotiate and extract the best price from big companies and their agents,’’ the minister said.