Anxiety remains even as dust is gradually settling down at Nandigram in East Midnapore district of West Bengal, where a large tract of land is to be acquired for building a Special Economic Zone and a chemical hub by the Salim group.
Nandigram was virtually under siege by the villagers who feared worst if the land was taken, followed by a bloody clash that left several people killed.
Given the wide publicity, the Nandigram land issue has assumed larger dimension for the country as a whole, because of which for the first time the central government is feeling the need to work out a comprehensive policy to award justifiable compensation to all those who loose their land, which in most cases is their only source of livelihood.
In West Bengal, the ruling government, having scored sweeping victory in the last assembly elections on the promises of development, felt that acquiring land for industry would not pose any problem. They thought this because they concluded that by overwhelmingly voting for them, the people of the state have indicated that they are ready for massive industrialization.
In actuality, the state government is proved wrong. 2 things are important here. First, the villagers who are now resisting the land takeover had no inkling of the impending crises that would befall them when they voted in the elections. Which is why, as the reality is now dawning on them, they have become frightened of loosing their earnings, and as a result many ruling party supporters have switched their loyalties.
Second, the government in power, taking the electoral victory as an automatic assent in their favor by the people of the state, has not thought it necessary to talk to would-be affected people and explain the whole process. This action is now proved the most vital beyond any doubt. The government has also awakened to the need of providing adequate compensation to the land-looser so that he does not face an uncertain future.
A unique situation
In a way, the situation in West Bengal is unique because of many reasons. As I’ve pointed out in an earlier post (Milestone 2006), there is now an avalanche of investment proposals in the state. Why is this so? Let’s examine.
For close to 3 decades, the very ruling parties who are now in power, have made everything possible to thwart and frighten industry. For them the word ‘capital’ was a big anathema. In their overly thrust on agrarian economy, they completely missed the importance of industry, reveling instead in the vain glory of past achievements. This negative mindset over long years gave rise to nepotism, corruption, joblessness and backwardness.
While West Bengal refused to come out of abyss, other states meanwhile marched ahead in economic development, especially the southern and western states of the country. India’s overall economy has improved a great deal in the last one and a half decade. Its GDP (gross domestic product, which is sum total of value of all products and services produced) is maintaining a scorching growth for the past several years.
The time is now upon us when there is a full-blown race among industries to set up new plants and facilities. The buzzword is ‘economy of scale’ or ‘global scale’, which means the new projects that are coming up are gigantic in size and shape. So much so that even projects worth thousands of crores of rupees do not evoke any awe any longer (take for example Sajjan Jindal’s proposed steel project of Rs.30,000 crores at Salboni in West Midnapore).
Amid this scenario, West Bengal has at last opened its door wide open. This has ensured a rush of investments – something no one in the state has experienced before. Industries are rushing elsewhere too (wherever there is good infrastructure like road, rail, electricity, etc.), but for Bengal this is an unseen phenomenon.
It may perhaps not be wrong to say that had Bengal woken up at least some years back and permitted industries bit by bit, the picture today wouldn’t have been so tense. Sections of people would have benefited from increased earnings, paving the path for others to follow suit.
But that was not to be. Standing now on the threshold of possibility of industrial revival, the government must take cautious steps and follow consensus approach. We’re fortunate that West Bengal is a member state of India and not a separate nation. So we can hope that if not tomorrow, day after tomorrow it will be when the fortune of better life flows into our state.
We are unfortunate that we have such opposition parties, who tend to serve their tiniest agenda by mindlessly resisting industrial investments any which way possible. If that means desecrating the sanctity of Assembly House, so be it.