West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee will lay the foundation stone of a 2.4 million tonne (mt) cement plant in Salboni on Wednesday. The plant is being set up by JSW Steel on 134 acres of land, a part of the 4,006 acres, which the company holds having returned 294 acres to the farmers.
Former Left Front chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had laid the foundation stone in 2008 for a 10 mt integrated steel and a 1,600 mw power plant at a cost of R40,000 crore. Unlike in Singur, land acquisition was easier in Salboni.
Of the total 4,300 acres, only 294 acres had to be directly purchased and the rest was government land, which was directly transferred to JSW.
However, the project didn’t take off thanks to alleged Maoist threats and later the global financial meltdown. The company made its financial closure and third time the project could not obtain any raw material linkage. So finally in December last year Sajjan Jindal, chairman and managing director of JSW Steel, announced that the 10 mt tonne steel plant with a 1,600 mw power plant has been kept on hold. On 294 acres of land directly purchased from the farmers, he said, it would be returned to the farmers though the company will not claim any refund for it.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said the Jindals have set an example which others should follow. However, the farmers were not content with whatever Jindals did. “We want a steel plant here and not return of the land,” Sukumar Hansda, who handed over a little less than one bigha land for the project, said.
As Tarun Samanta who handed over a little less than ten acres says, “Our land does not hold much value for us as we could hardly cultivate anything on it. The location also didn’t call for any civil construction. But the Jindals offered us a minimum of R2.8 lakh and a maximum of R3.10 lakh an acre, which was at least three times more than the actual price of the land.”
Although there is a new hope with Sajjan Jindal once again promising to set up a 2.4 mt cement plant and a 300 mw power plant at a cost of R700 crore, there is not much excitement since the latest proposed project doesn’t match the scale of the earlier one. “There will be 150 direct recruits and at least 1,000 workers can be engaged in the construction work,” a JSW official said adding that this time it doesn’t seem that there will be a political web to obstruct the project.
“We hope Mamata Banerjee’s ground breaking on January 6 goes unperturbed unlike on November 2, 2008 when the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the then union steel minister Ram Vilas Paswan narrowly escaped a land mine blast on their way back after laying the foundation stone for the steel project.”
The Maoists had given a clear indication through the blast that they would not give a free hand to the project. It was a Trinamool backed Janasadharoner Committee, the face of the Maoists in Salboni that had cast a shadow on the project. It was impossible for the JSW management to negotiate across the table with either the Maoist or the CPM’s armed battalion, known as Harmads. “This time we hope that nothing like that would come in the way of the project,” a top official of the Midnapore district administration said.