Jindal offers free shares to farmers in Bengal project


Kolkata : Sajjan Jindal-controlled JSW Steels Ltd Thursday said it would offer free shares to those whose land would be acquired for its upcoming mega plant in West Bengal – an unprecedented move amid protests over land acquisition.

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JSW Steels signed an agreement with the state government Jan 11 to set up a 10-million-tonne steel plant with a cumulative investment of Rs.350 billion ($7.85 billion) at Salboni in West Midnapore district, about 170 km west of Kolkata.

"If a farmer is given Rs.100 for his land then he would be given free shares worth Rs.100 as well. The local people should be the owners of this plant and they must benefit from development in their area. By the time the steel plant comes up their share value would rise three to four times," Jindal said.

He also promised to offer jobs for one member of the 740-odd displaced families in the plant after suitable training.

Jindal's announcements may set a trend in land acquisition process for industry. It also provides ammunition to those protesting the Tata Motors' project in Singur, claiming the Tata deal was against the interest of the state as well as farmers who were not being suitably compensated.

"I had heard of it in the past but this is happening for the first time here," said Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya with whom Jindal had a meeting at the state secretariat Writers' Buildings Thursday to discuss the progress of land transfer and other issues.

Jindal said the money to be paid to the farmers would be partly in cash and partly as insurance benefits to ensure that the recipient would not spend the whole amount soon.

"If Rs.100 is to be given to a farmer, then Rs.50 would be in cash while the remaining Rs.50 will be deposited as insurance at the district magistrate's office," the industrialist said.

Bhattacharya told reporters: "This is going to be the biggest and most modern steel plant in the country. We are trying to help them (Jindals) with the sourcing of iron ore, coal and water while they have themselves progressed a lot.

"We are not touching any residential houses for this project. The farmland available there is also of very poor quality. Meetings are on in phases with the villagers and they are all too willing and would hand over land spontaneously," the chief minister said.

"The Jindals are buying land directly from farmers while the government land would be handed over in due course though we have facilitated the process so that they can start work," Bhattacharya said.

The plant is to come up over 5,000 acres and a forest zone in the area would also be protected by the Jindals, he said.

Spread over 12 years, the investment will cover a steel plant, a dedicated port, a coalmine and a power project, taking West Bengal into the big league of steel producing states like neighbouring Jharkhand and Orissa.

"We will start with a three-million-tonne plant with Rs.100 billion investment. This will also have a 600 MW captive power plant," Jindal said in January.

"It will take 48 months to commission this project," he said.

"West Bengal is one of the best sites for an integrated steel plant. We are close to the iron ore rich belt of Orissa and Jharkhand and also we are close to the ports. Nature has given West Bengal very high quality coal mine and we would revive some of the old coalmines, which have been abandoned in Ranigunge area. We will also develop 600-metre deep underground mine, something not done in India before," Jindal said.

The plant is expected to create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.