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Mamata ends stir, farmers to get land
BS Reporter in Kolkata
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September 08, 2008 08:35 IST
Last Updated: September 08, 2008 09:17 IST

Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee agreed to end her two-week-long protest in front of the Tata Motors [Get Quote] Nano factory complex at Singur after the West Bengal government agreed to give farmers who had refused compensation land inside the 997-acre factory complex in return for what they had lost to the project. The state government will also finance the purchase of this land.

A four-member committee will be constituted under the chairmanship of Rabindranath Bhattacharya, TC MLA from Singur, to examine the issue and submit its report in a week. The government, in turn, will request vendors to stop work for the week.

Officials from Tata Motors, which had suspended work at Singur owing to the protests, are likely to meet the government on Monday.

The deal, which was mediated by West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, achieved the impossible by getting Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to meet Banerjee for the first time ever in the Raj Bhavan to end the impasse over Singur.

The governor, flanked by TC and government teams, including Mamata Banerjee and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, announced, "The state has responded to the agitating farmers. The government will give the maximum area of land within the project site. Mamata Banerjee is making an announcement regarding withdrawal of her agitation. The government and the representatives of the agitating farmers will cooperate and work in the interest of farming, industry and ancillary units."

Mamata Banerjee said, "This is a moral victory for farmers. We would like work at the factory to start from tomorrow as we are for industry and the ancillary units too."

The meeting appeared to have ended successfully earlier, but after the chief minister left Raj Bhavan at 6.45 pm for the CPI(M) headquarters at Alimuddin Street to seek his party's permission for the agreement, Banerjee insisted on insertion of the phrase "status quo" in the agreement between the two sides.

This could be interpreted to mean complete stoppage of work in the entire vendor park area, including in vendor plots, where project work was on, and was opposed by the state government.

The state wanted work at the vendor plots to continue and exclude the "status quo" phrase.

There are around 28 unoccupied plots in the 55-plot vendor park, and 47 acres held by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, included in the settlement.

Banerjee's "status quo" demand, conveyed to the chief minister by the governor over the phone, forced Bhattacharjee to return to Raj Bhavan at 9 pm with Industries Minister Nirupam Sen and Health and Panchayat Minister Surja Kanta Mishra in an effort to persuade Banerjee to eliminate the phrase.

Meanwhile, the governor left Raj Bhavan to meet a Chinese minister and returned to get the chief minister and Banerjee to meet a second time.

Under the other terms of the settlement, the two sides had agreed to set up a joint committee with two members each to examine the value of the land inside the factory site to be returned and determine compensation package based on their findings within 30 days, now reduced to seven days.

Banerjee wanted the "status quo" to continue till the findings were submitted.

The state's formula would have enabled Banerjee to extract over 100 acres from inside the project site, comprising the WBIDC area and the unoccupied plots in the 290-acre vendor park.

In addition, the state promised to finance the purchase of around 100 acres outside to accommodate unwilling farmers.

In addition, the TC wanted a small bonus to be paid to "unwilling farmers", which the state government opposed, they added.

The challenge before the state government is now to get Tata Motors and its vendors to resume work at the Singur factory. Last week, Tata Motors had announced it was suspending work at Singur fearing for the safety of its employees and equipment, raising concerns over whether the world's cheapest car would stick to its October deadline.

The controversy also strikes at the heart of the chief minister's attempts to stoke industrial revival in the state, for which the Singur project was to be a showcase.

There was danger that the Singur unit would no longer be the mother plant of the Nano but only one of the satellite units which could begin supply to vehicles locally well after the October launch dateline, if the situation was salvaged at all.

Banerjee and Bhattacharjee had a particularly bitter relationship in the past, caused by the habit of both of making unflattering comments against each other, particularly when Banerjee was on a 24-day fast against "illegal" land acquisition in Singur in 2006.

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