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Singur minus Nano – victory or folly?

Mamata Banerjee celebrated the Supreme Court judgment directing the return of the land acquired for Tata’s Nano project. The decade since 2006 when she launched the agitation has been profitable for Mamata and her TMC. It helped her end the long rule by the leftists, rule from Delhi as a Union Minister and later from West Bengal as the state’s Chief Minister.

Singur proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back and ended 34 years of Left rule.

A decade later, there is not much cause for euphoria for those who parted with the land. To put this in perspective, 400 acres of land were acquired from 2200 farmers. An estimated 6000 families were affected.

Agriculture has not been a highly remunerative occupation except for large-sized farms that employ science, technology and management. The small pieces of land acquired from individual farmers are unviable. Now, after having kept away from the farm for ten long years, cultivation is difficult. With low levels of productivity, agriculture has lost its viability.

World over, there has been an inexorable shift of employment from agriculture to industry and services. In the US, for instance, less than 2 per cent of the population is directly employed in farming. In India too, direct employment offered by agriculture covers around half of what it did a hundred years ago.

Tamil Nadu has witnessed a more rapid shift from agriculture. With the rapid migration to cities, most villages are bereft of male labour.

The spectacular transformation of Sriperumbudur should explain the benefits of such a shift. Hyundai Motors produces around 600,000 cars a year. Of these, a third is exported. Over 140 ancillary units have been set up around this mother plant, providing employment to thousands. There is a flourishing services sector engaged in transporting components. Hundreds of small businesses meet the varied requirements of the employees at these factories.

The Tata Motors plant at Singur would have provided such opportunities around Singur and improved their standards of living. In killing that project, TMC has caused irreparable damage to the livelihood of thousands in and around Singur.

The anti- Nano leaders should have paused to look at the benefits showered by the Tata Steel on the few hundreds that surrendered their land for setting up the Kalinganagar Steel Plant in Odisha. The displaced persons were re-settled with plots and house building assistance. The colonies have motorable roads, electricity, clean water, sewage system, community halls and recreational facilities. The children of the displaced were provided access to quality primary education and their higher education was fully funded by the Tatas. Health care is provided with a multi-specialty hospital. Assistance is also provided for encouraging sports, agriculture productivity and a host of other socially- ameliorative services.

A story of missed opportunities for Singur.

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