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Friday, September 12, 2008

POST MORTEM SINGUR

So, Tata has almost decided to quit /Singur. About 2 years ago Tata embarked upon the ambitious project of small car, choosing for its plant, Singur in WB, a state which had been under communist rules for about three decades and where agitations over anything are very common. It does not appear to be an investor friendly place. But call it the failure of communism or victory of open market economy, even the communist government greeted Tata and went out of the way, a bit too much, in helping him with land acquisition. There were protests and agitations as some small land owners did not agree to part with their lands, notwithstanding the compensation. Politicians jumped in to encash the ‘opportunity’, shedding mamta-ful tears for poor farmers. Left called it a right step towards development while others cried foul and asked the Left government and Tata to step out. Government went ahead by using brute force including police firing. Why did government forcibly acquire land for a private industrial house, however famous, for a plant to manufacture cars, an ultra luxury item in India? Those snatching the land can not understand, rather ‘feel’, what the land means to the poor man. Tata faced, fought and failed, and has now (almost) announced his decision to quit Singur.

But lo and behold! In the final tally the loser Tata appears to be emerging as the final winner, as the Governor himself has intervened to stop Tata’s exit. Mamta is running for cover from the wrath of those who got jobs in or because of Nano project. One such person has already committed suicide. She is now too eager to solve the issue through dialogue while still holding on her mask of boldness on the face stricken by happening of what she never expected: that Tata would stake his big money and pull out of Singur. After all this assumption was her main bargaining lever.

But the larger question still stares us in face: the car, or for that matter any big factory, industry, dam or any such developmental activity would generate employment and help uplift living standards, but is the government right in forcibly acquiring land for a private entrepreneur in the name of development? How do we define development? Any such activity is bound to impact the existing life of native inhabitants, destroy the pristine landscape or forestlands, cause pollution, etc. Who draws the line to define how much is too much? Unless we do that there will be more Singurs.

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