Amartya Sen said acquisition of land by the government should be the last recourse to build industry. The Nobel laureate was critical of the way land was acquired in Singur but came out in support of the Nano project. “There is no reason not to purchase land directly if you believe in market economy,” he told an interactive session attended by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and industries minister Nirupam Sen.
The industry, he said, should first try buying land from owners directly. He said purchasing land directly from Singur farmers shouldn’t have been a problem for the Tatas at a time they were buying British Steel (Corus).
After the project left Bengal, the government has allowed industry to acquire land directly, changing its earlier stand to acquire land and lease it to companies. It hasn’t produced the desired results, though, as land holdings are highly fragmented in the state.
Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta, who was moderating the session, said the Tatas would have faced problems in acquiring land on their own. Sen, however, stressed the importance of security, which he said had to be ensured by the government and the Opposition. “Once it was decided that (a) factory will come up on the land in Singur, it was not right to go back on it.”
Sen defended the right to criticism in a democracy but warned it shouldn’t be stretched so far that it harmed industry and Bengal eventually. “Industry will want to remain open and operate. The problem is if a large political party says production has to stop, production will stop here, maybe by a bandh also.”
Sen called for ushering in social change to maintain continuity or paramparya, saying no business house would be interested in investing in Bengal unless that was ensured. Economist Pranab Bardhan, who believes land should be taken for industry only after paying “adequate compensation to farmers”, proposed that the process be carried out by an independent body. Professor Amiya Bagchi said people must be convinced about land acquisition first, while sociologist Partha Chattopadhyay underscored the importance of the unorganised sector in Bengal’s progress.
FICCI secretary-general Amit Mitra said the state should focus on its core strengths and build on them, while calling for widespread change in people’s perspective.