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Singur land costs far more than state offer price
Pradeep Gooptu & Namrata Acharya
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September 16, 2008 02:25 IST

The West Bengal government's new compensation package for 'unwilling' farmers in Singur, 40km from Kolkata, might have been praised by Tata Motors [Get Quote], but those involved in land transactions in the area find the offer inadequate.

The move to offer 50 per cent cash more assistance to land-losers in lieu of the land acquired for the small car project will not be enough for farmers to buy land anywhere nearby, especially close to the highway.

Only farmland deep in the interior may be available at the offered price. 

According to Amar Ghosh, a property dealer who facilitated sale of about 150 acres near the Nano factory site in Singur over the last one year, the compensation offered by the government will only enable farmers buy land 10-12km away from Singur.

It would be impossible for any farmer to commute that distance to his field daily, he pointed out.

"While the existing cost of land in Singur is Rs 50-60 lakh per acre, the government's offer of nearly Rs 16 lakh per acre, will not buy any sizable land on higway anywhere near," said Ghosh.

The land acquired for the Tata Motors Nano plant was in the shape of the letter 'W' with frontage over a kilometre long on the highway.

Thanks to the plant, though, land price escalation had been steep in Singur, having risen more than four times in 30 months.

However, there were much fewer takers for land after the events of the recent days.

"We have 400 acre land ready for sale in up to 5 km radius of the Singur plant, but there are no buyers. We have obtained no-objection certificates from farmers who owned that land. Still, no one is willing to buy land here. Recently, one Mumbai-based industry backed from buying 150 acre land in the area," lamented Ghosh.  Land prices have escalated from Rs 30 lakh per acre to Rs 50-60 lakh per acre in a year in Singur.

Patit Paban De, president of West Bengal Cold Storage Association, confirmed that the at Rs 16 lakh an acre, a farmer could buy land not less than 15km away from Singur.

"There is no way that one can find land at less than Rs 50-60 lakh acre in Singur, or even the highway. A farmer may only be able to buy land after Gurap, which is nearly 15km from Singur. One may find agriculture land at Rs 5-6 lakh in villages far away the highway," said De.

However, farmers in the potato-growing region of Barddhaman, 100km from Kolkata, felt the compensation offered by the government was 'lucrative'.

Paresh Nath Ghosh, a potato farmer from Barddhaman, said, "The government's offer for farmers in Singur is attractive."

In view of the huge loss due to potato farming, such a deal would have been very attractive for farmers in Barddhaman, confirmed Ramprasad Ghosal, another farmer from Barddhaman.  He said that after the recent disastrous potato crop, some farmers were ready to sell land at as low as Rs 7-8 lakh per acre, including fertile multi crop land in the district.

From September 14, the government had announced a special package for Singur farmers, offering 70 acres offered from the Tata Motors project site for public purpose.

Additional 50 per cent cash assistance was promised to landlosers and bargadars so that they could buy agricultural land of their choice. Unrecorded bargadars to receive 300 days wages at NREGA rate, the state offer said.

The Bengal government promise a special 10 per cent incentive for unwilling landlosers if they accepted compensation within September 22, 2008.

The government promised to train and endeavour to provide direct or indirect employment for one person per project affected family having no regular employment or income and take up community development schemes in all project affected villages.

Even under this offer, the government may find relocating disgruntled farmers in Singur a herculean task, as almost all the land on the National Highway had been sold off for commercial projects. 

Dhaniakhali, 50 km west of Kolkata, was reputed to have the best soil in the state and land there was usually transacted at a premium of 15-25 per cent over comparable land in other localities.

As the state government had offered to pay for any alternative land to be bought to rehabilitate unwilling farmers from Singur, the cost of land in Dhaniakhali was bound to shoot up further. Land on the highway in areas like Barddhaman and Asansol (200km from Kolkata) was not less than Rs 25 lakh per acre but for commercial use.

Farmland price depended upon the number of crop cycles sustainable on the land, with the most fertile land yielding three crops.  Profitability on crops also varied.

In most years, including 2008, vegetable cultivation proved to be most profitable, ahead of paddy, potato, and jute cultivation in West Bengal.  In areas near Singur, vegetable was the most common crop. Vegetables grown in localities like Masagram, Nabagram, Hazigarh and Balarambati among others fetched premium prices in markets like Kolkata.

Profit from farming, depending upon weather and market conditions, varied. Vegetable farming profit could go up to Rs 30,000 per acre, the cultivation time being two-three months.  For paddy, profit varied between Rs 5,000-7,000 per acre and it was generally grown in three months in two seasons.

In jute, some farmers claimed the profit was negligible, not more than Rs 700-1,000 per acre, with the crop taking three months to grow and requiring heaviest investments in fertiliser and water.

Potato this year was a disaster, as on average farmers suffered a loss ranging between Rs 5,000-10,000 per acre on the crop though it was grown only once a year.

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