West Bengal: Payback time for Mamata Banerjee

The first month of the new Mamata Banerjee ministry saw fast paced progress on two contentious issues - Singur and Gorkhaland.

Last Updated: Jun 21, 2011, 14:01 PM IST

Kolkata: The first month of the new
Mamata Banerjee ministry in West Bengal saw fast paced
progress on two contentious issues -- the return of land to
unwilling farmers of Singur and setting aside of the
Gorkhaland demand for a bipartite agreement on Darjeeling.

The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha put aside its demand for a
separate state of Gorkhaland and agreed to a new hill council
with more autonomy in a bipartite agreement signed with the
West Bengal government, signalling an end of the 15-year-old
movement in Darjeeling.

The chief minister, who had earlier stated that she
would solve the Darjeeling problem within three months of
coming to power, announced on June 7 that her `magic formula`
of development had led to the breakthrough.

The bipartite agreement, described as "historic" by
the chief minister, was signed by GJM General Secretary Roshan
Giri and Home Secretary GD Gautama.

Consensus was reached on the formation of a new hill
council replacing the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council which
would have full administrative, financial and executive powers
and be given more autonomy.

"We are satisfied with the talks and will cooperate
with the government," Giri later said.

After concluding the Darjeeling chapter, it was the
turn of the farmers of Singur who had unwilling parted with
their land for the abandoned Tata Motors Nano project and also
not accepted compensation cheques to wait for `Didi` to
fulfill her promise to them.

On June 14, fulfilling the election pledge of the
chief minister, the West Bengal Assembly passed The Singur
Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011 scrapping the
previous Left Front government`s deal with Tata Motors.

The bill vested the entire 997.17 acre of acquired
land at Singur along with the existing structure with the
state government. The government was to return equivalent
quantum of land to unwilling farmers.

The remaining portion of the land was to be utilised
for socio-economic development, employment generation,
industry and other public purpose.

The passage of the bill, which was adopted by voice
vote, amidst a walkout by members of the Left, was not without
its pinpricks with the Opposition dubbing it as flawed and
that it could be a trigger for court cases.

Tata Motors, on its part said, it had moved out of
Singur reluctantly and would take "appropriate steps" after
studying the Bill.

The company said the Bill`s purpose was taking away of
the land because of `non-commissioning` and `abandoning` of
the project, but pointed out that construction of the plant
was done under difficult conditions amidst violence,
disruption of activities and threats to personnel.

The chief minister, however, expressed satisfaction
saying, "What we have done in these few days has never been
done before nor will anyone be able to achieve ever after."

Besides achieving the two milestones, Banerjee
has given attention on changing the work culture with an
appeal to government employees to forget political
affiliations and the past and work together.

Banerjee visited a number of government-run hospitals
and institutes when least expected and suspended the director
of one of the institutes.

The main challenge facing the chief minister is the
financial crisis thrust on her by the earlier government for
which she has sought central assistance.

Economist Sugata Marjit said, "Mamata`s sudden visits
to government-run hospitals, the power, food and police
departments have given a major jerk to the lethargic system
that developed over the last 34 years of Left Front rule."

Another economist Aviroop Sarkar said, "The Left did
not allow competition and decisions were taken at the party
office. We need fair policies and the will to revive
industrialisation in Bengal."

Banerjee also had an interaction with industrialists
where she announced that land would have to be purchased
directly by the investors besides the formation of a core
group to sort out problems and work out plans for investment.

Industrialist Harsh Neotia said, "That was a positive
meeting. I hope the core group which has been set up will help
resolve issues raised by industry and potential investors."

PTI