Scam effect

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s dream of reviving industry in West Bengal seems to be running aground. The latest casualty of the Bengal government’s failure to resolve problems arising from land acquisition for industry are projects that Infosys and Wipro were hoping to set up in the state. The government has said it is scrapping the proposed IT township at Rajarhat, a Kolkata suburb, where it was to provide the two IT majors with land. This is a serious setback for Bhattacharya’s ambitions of transforming Kolkata into an IT hub. It is the third major blow dealt to his effort to revive industry in the state. As in Nandigram and Singur earlier, where problems over land acquisition forced the withdrawal of major projects — Tata Motors pulled out its Nano project from Singur following violent protests there — in Rajarhat too, questionable land deals have aborted the IT township. It has been alleged that the land for the township was acquired from farmers at gun point. In fact, the violent flare-up in the area a fortnight ago is believed to be linked to the improper methods that were used by developers to acquire the land.

The scrapping of the IT projects will undermine Bengal’s image, already sullied by mass protests and the Singur fiasco, as an investment destination. This is a pity because Bhattacharya had worked hard to invite investors to the state. His initiative had sparked some hope that the terminal decline of Bengal’s once great industrial sector would be arrested and that its revival would provide employment. That hope has now been dashed. Investors will be wary of putting their money in Bengal.

It is not West Bengal alone that is facing problems over land acquisition for industrial purposes. Violent protests have erupted in Goa, Maharashtra and Haryana when state governments sought to acquire land for special economic zones. Industry bodies have been calling on the Centre to come out with a comprehensive policy that ensures fair and transparent acquisition of land and clear rehabilitation and resettlement guidelines. The Centre did come out with a Land Acquisition Amendment Bill and a Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill but has dragged its feet on the matter since. A clear set of rules for land acquisition will protect farmers’ rights and allow infrastructure and other projects to move easily. Bengal, indeed India, cannot afford to lose investment and projects.

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