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Monday 14 November 2011

Bengal’s almighty 0.0069 acre Small slice, big impact
Bengal’s almighty 0.0069 acre
Small slice, big impact
Calcutta, Nov. 13: Divine intervention, not Didi alone, will be required to complete the biggest industrial expansion project in Bengal.
A sliver of a plot measuring less than an acre is standing in the way of the Rs 17,000-crore IISCO expansion project at Burnpur, which illustrates the concern repeatedly expressed by industry over the state government’s hands-off policy on land.
Moreover, if a government-owned behemoth like SAIL is getting stuck over such a small patch, the challenges before private industry, for which the government has refused to step in, can only be more daunting.
SAIL, which is executing the expansion, has spent more than 70.5 per cent of the amount but cannot complete a three-pronged disposal system, a logistics chain and an input channel because of the dispute over the circular patch, which at 0.0069 acre accounts for less than 0.0019 per cent of the 353 acres acquired 22 years ago.
A section of the people, supported by the Trinamul Congress, in Purushottampur mouza is opposing any construction over the patch because it now has a tree and stones that are considered the idols of a deity, Jhorabudi.
The opponents have another grouse — that SAIL has not given them jobs but only monetary compensation unlike during another round of acquisition 28 years ago in a neighbouring mouza. The issue is now pending in court but there is no legal bar on construction.
However, the sensitive issue of the deity is being cited to tie the hands of SAIL, which wants to complete the project by June next year. Expansion is a misnomer for the project — SAIL is actually building a steel-making complex from scratch and never before has so much money been spent on one place in Bengal, the trickle-down effect of which is evident in the boom in the Asansol-Durgapur belt.
Senior officials of SAIL — the steel giant featured high on chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s list of “new” projects announced two weeks ago — have conveyed their concern to the Bengal government.
“I have apprised the chief minister of the situation and industries minister Partha Chatterjee during my last visit to Calcutta. The problem needs to be resolved soon so that SAIL can complete the project on time,” C.S. Verma, the chairman of the company, told The Telegraph.
“I am aware of the situation and have called a meeting with SAIL officials,” industries minister Chatterjee said. Local officials are also holding talks with the protesters.
Verma pointed out that IISCO was one of the most compact steel plants in India because a 3-million-tonne capacity was being built over 900 acres. SAIL’s older plants built decades ago are spread over tens of thousands of acres.
“Hence the scope of manoeuvring is extremely low,” Verma said, asked if the company had explored the option of skirting the patch to carry out the expansion.
Pavitra Majhi, the local Trinamul councillor who sympathises with the agitators, cited religious sentiments. “You will find records of the deity even in the British period. We will not let it move from there,” he said.
Not that SAIL has not tried out other options. The company constructed a structure on an alternative site, around 500 metres from the place where the deity is now located, and offered it to the villagers. But the translocation appears to have got entangled in the less ethereal demand for jobs.
Majhi, the councillor, said: “We can consider SAIL’s request only if they give jobs to 230 people. We may then call a priest and move out the deity.”
Veteran priests Pranabeshwar Smrititirtha and Amal Chatterjee said in Calcutta that a simple puja begging forgiveness for the shift would be adequate. The deity can then be installed elsewhere with a pratishtha puja, they added.
“Offering flowers to roadside stones does not bestow divinity,” clarified Chatterjee, who is in charge of the Maddox Square Durga Puja. “If a priest has installed a deity, it is mandatory to conduct daily rituals (nitya puja) there.”
IISCO had acquired 353 acres, including the land where the deity is located, in Purushottampur in 1988-89. It had paid Rs 1 crore for the entire acquisition but did not build a boundary wall to establish territorial rights — twin testimonies to the situation that existed in what now looks like another era when land was taken for granted.
Before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flagged off the expansion in late 2006 — by then land had become a lightning rod — the villagers started the agitation for jobs and took the company to court.
Following a directive of Calcutta High Court, SAIL paid Rs 48 crore to the landowners in line with the then market rate. But the demand for jobs was not dropped and a case is still pending at the high court.
Majhi pointed out that IISCO had given one job per family when it took land in the neighbouring Nakrasata mouza in 1983. SAIL officials said that in Nakrasata, the company hardly paid any cash compensation and, therefore, one job per acre was given.
The officials said SAIL’s productivity was 241 tonnes per person per year, which is four times less than the international average. If the number of jobs is increased, the productivity will worsen further.

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