Saturday, September 6, 2008
With the Tatas’ Nano factory in Singur under siege for the past several days, things are looking bad for the West Bengal government. A non-democratic society might well have precipitated a new version of Tiananmen Square. But ours cannot afford that option, though the violent incidents at Nandigram last year didn’t fulfil some of the basic requirements of a democracy. The Singur crisis has reached a tipping point with the Tatas threatening to leave and the West Bengal governor being forced to intervene. Is there a credible way to defuse the crisis? Clearly, the return of the 400 acres in Singur — that is at the heart of the current dispute — will not help the farmers since the land is no longer cultivable. There is no reason to believe, therefore, that the opposition is engaged in preserving the bucolic charm of rural West Bengal. What it clearly wants is more money to be shared between the party bosses and cadre. Besides, they are well aware that under the present legal arrangement, the land acquired by the government under the 1894 Act cannot be returned in any case, though a higher price can surely be offered. Land prices in and around Singur have been continuously rising ever since the Nano plant began coming up. There is no way the government can afford to pay the prevailing price. However, if the Tatas leave, the price will fall to negligible levels.