In industry-wary Bengal, Salboni pens a happy plot

Land acquired primarily in 2006-07, in daze of Singur-Nandigram agitation, JSW Steels and farmers seem to have a happy-ending in sight. Now, land sellers want the promised jobs. And fast

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Puja Bhattacharjee | January 10, 2013


Brothers Samarlal and Shekharlal Bhuniya do not shy away from making clear their displeasure at not having found employment with the Jindals yet.

Inside the small kitchen, she deftly washes the dishes, pours water in the bowl and lets it microwave for a few minutes. She adds tea leaves into the hot water and sits down to rest. Her reverie is interrupted by a phone call. She politely answers the call and hurries out with a kettle and a few glasses in hand.

Pampa Upadhyay serves tea at the JSW Steel plant site in Salboni, cycling 8 km to work every day from her home in Baskopna village.

In a state where industry has had a rough ride, first for years under the Left Front regime and subsequently the Mamata Banerjee-led drive against land acquisition for industry, with Singur and Nandigram emerging as the bywords of the anti-manufacturing drive, Upadhyay’s is a happy story. There was little, in fact no tangible opposition to JSW’s project, with a development agreement inked with the West Bengal government in January 2007.

Her father-in-law sold a considerable part of the family’s land to the Jindals, and in return Pampa got work as part of the company’s offer for a job to one person per family of those who sold their land for the project. She took up the job since her husband was unwilling — he wanted to concentrate on agriculture and business.

Like Upadhyay, 50 others were given training for three months — from July to September this year — to be absorbed as employees. “We were taught how and when to greet people and basic discipline to be observed. They gave us a tour of the plant,” Upadhyay says.
Post-training, she was incorporated in the plant as a trainee for a year. “For now, I am getting a stipend of Rs 4,200 per month,” she says. “I will get remuneration once I am a permanent employee,” she explains.

The number game
Gulshan Kumar Saini, project-in-charge, Salboni, says nearly 900 people have sold their land for the project. ““As per the agreement between West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation and Jindal South West (JSW), those who sell land (for the project) would be given a suitable job at either JSW, or Bengal Steel or a sister concern,” he says. “There are two kinds of ownership: single ownership and joint deed. Seventy percent of the land is on joint deed, which means a person has to be nominated (from the deed holders) for the job.”

According to Saini, there are “roughly 350” single land owners, of which about 100 have been given jobs till date.

The land acquisition office acquired 189.62 acres from individual owners on a proposal by the state industrial development corporation for the plant. The Jindals acquired 288.88 acres directly from individual owners, and were allowed to keep only 24.20 acres of it as per ownership laws. The remaining 264.68 acres, considered “vested land”, was given to the company on lease for 99 years by the land reforms office.
The lease deed is yet to be executed.

Besides these, 3835.1586 acres and 2.34 acres were given to the Jindals on lease, as mentioned in separate lease deeds.

The reactions
Lakhi Kanto Mahato, who got Rs 15 lakh for 14 bigha land he gave to the Jindals, says the area has seen “a lot of progress” since and that the project will be a milestone for the region. “I did not have a stable income as a farmer”, so the ready money was handy for him, Mahato says. “Everyone I know wants to work at JSW. It is going to be a huge factory,” he says.

Mahato, who earlier cultivated paddy, eucalyptus, cashew nuts and did odd jobs (like supervisory work as part of national rural employment guarantee scheme), says, “No one wants to sell land easily. But they wanted an industry even more eagerly.”

Dulal Bhuniya says he sold his one-and-half bigha plot five years ago for Rs 1.33 lakh. He is happy with the money he received against his plot back then, though he can do little to nip the yearning now that the prices have gone up manifold. “I got a good compensation back then but now the land is worth almost 20 times that amount! In fact, land value has increased several notches ever since the advent of the Jindals,” he says.

Bhuniya says he was not influenced by any political party to sell the land at a time pro-farmland and anti-industry agitation in Singur and Nandigram had captivated the nation. “I want the production to start at the earliest,” he says. “In fact, I have been waiting patiently for that since 2007.”
Working as a gardener at the plant site at present, Bhuniya says he can sustain himself with the odd job since he owns land elsewhere. “But some people who have given their entire land are desperate for work,” he adds.

Like the other two, Prabhas Ghosh, too, feels the compensation of Rs 1.20 lakh for his 1-bigha land was reasonable. “I have worked in agriculture and I can tell you it is no good — the land here is not conducive to farming. The paddy yield, especially, was very poor,” Ghosh says. “I own 3 bighas elsewhere, and once the factory starts operations I will give that to the Jindals as well.”
Both Bhuniya and Ghosh are awaiting a job call from JSW.

Is it all happy-happy then? For now, looks like
According to Saini, of approximately 4,400 acres JSW Steel owns in Salboni (the total size is 4315.9986 acres), most of it was government-controlled plots. “We acquired land with the help of the government without any large-scale opposition,” he adds.

“The Left Front government was in power when the Jindals acquired land. They (Jindals) bought land directly from the farmers without involving any middlemen. The farmers got good price for their land and a person from each family who sold land had been promised a job. They (Jindals) have lived up to their promise,” says Mrigen Maiti, MLA and district chairman of Trinamool Congress, the party that led the agitation against alleged forcible acquisition of farmland in Singur and Nandigram, among other areas.

“I myself inaugurated a training centre at Sayedpur. Jindals acquired land lawfully, so we did not object,” Maiti says. “They bought mostly forest and barren lands, and I will extend my full cooperation to them (the company).”

So is it a win-win situation for all? Haradhan Bhuniya, who sold his 12 kathas for Rs 69,000 in 2007, says there’s little small ownbers like him could do either way: “When other big landowners sell land you have to sell yours, too. I did not want the boundary wall to obstruct my land. I haven’t got any paper for shares as of yet (but) I was told that I will get the papers when the project starts,” he says.

Brothers Samarlal and Shekharlal  Bhuniya, meanwhile, do not shy away from making clear their displeasure at not having found employment with the Jindals yet. “We sold our land a long time ago. It is time they offer us a job,” the siblings assert.

The acquisition process
Saini, the project in-charge, one issue with they faced was the quantum of land in possession of farmers and land owners in the area. “In Punjab, Haryana or Delhi a farmer could own up to 50 acres. But here a 7-acre piece could be owned by up to 100 people,” he says.
And will the company provide employment to villagers who did not have to sell their land? “That will be second priority. Our first concern is to rehabilitate land owners (whose land was acquired for the project),” Saini says.

Having started acquiring land around 2006-07, Saini says, “Our approach toward procurement was different — we offered shares to facilitate villagers to come closer to us, the JSW family, as the compensation package was good.”

The plant, says Saini, will be ready after issues regarding forest and land agreement are worked out with the government. “As soon as the government hands over all land to JSW, it will take approximately 36 months from then to commission the plant,” he says.

Sources say water will most probably be sourced from Rupnarayan river, which also remains a big challenge for the project developers.

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