JSW Steel project rekindles West Bengal’s industry dream


Salboni (West Bengal) : Nearly a month after Tata Motors aborted its small car project in Singur, West Bengal Sunday sought to rekindle its fading industrialisation dream with the launch of the JSW Bengal Steel project in this Maoist-targeted area amid high security.

Support TwoCircles

Thousands of people, mostly supporters of the state’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), gathered at the venue, about 150 km from Kolkata, as Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee unveiled the foundation stone for the 10-million-tonne steel plant in West Midnapore district.

“The first phase of the project will have a pelletisation plant, iron ore beneficiary and coal mine development units. By 2012, we will complete three million tonnes, by 2015 six million tonnes, and by 2020 the remaining one million tonnes will be completed,” JSW Bengal Steel chairman Sajjan Jindal said.

JSW Bengal steel is promoted by JSW Steel Ltd, which holds 89 percent of the equity capital. The balance 11 percent is owned by the state government.

But the unsavoury episodes surrounding the Nano small car project, which was ultimately shifted to Gujarat following a sustained and intense agitation by the opposition Trinamool Congress-led farmers against alleged “forcible” acquisition of agricultural land, found repeated mention during the function.

“We have solved the land problem over here (Salboni). Land has been acquired for the project. Apart from the steel plant, it will also have captive power and cement plants, and around 10,000 to 12,000 people in and around Salboni will get employment in the project,” Bhattacharjee said.

The Rs.350-billion (over $7 billion) Salboni project would come up on around 4,800 acres in this backward district that has large tracts of fallow land. JSW Bengal Steel has purchased 4,300 acres of fallow vested land from the government, and the remaining from the villagers through direct negotiations.

Criticising the opposition for its agitation in Singur that forced the Tatas to quit, Bhattacharjee said: “We had told them that we are ready to sit for talks. You please shun the destructive path you are following. But they did not listen.”

“If a factory goes out of West Bengal, it is not the shame of the state government alone, it is a shame for the entire state,” said Bhattacharjee, adding a new industrial project would soon be announced on the land which was acquired in Singur for the small car factory.

On the Salboni steel plant, he said the responsibility for the project’s success lies not with the state government alone, but also with the people of Salboni.

Drawing a comparison between Singur and Salboni, the chief minister said the locals here were much more cooperative, something that was lacking in Singur.

He said while agricultural productivity has to be increased, for proper growth the state also needed industries, especially manufacturing units like steel plants, and cement, engineering and mechanical tools projects.

Jindal said the project would better the lot of the locals. “We didn’t want to hurt the sentiments of the farmers. More than 80 percent of the people, who have given land, are being trained now for jobs once the steel plant comes up”.

He added, for every piece of land given for the project, one member of the family will get a permanent job after training.

Sunday’s programme could prove to be a watershed for the state which has seen even infrastructural projects like the expansion of a key national highway stalled following anti-land acquisition agitations.

For the state government, the project presents a great opportunity to bring its industrial efforts back on rails. For the opposition, it is a chance to shake off its anti-industry image.

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata, who pulled out the showcase Nano project from the state Oct 3, held the Trinamool Congress responsible for its exit from Singur.

The Trinamool Congress has already welcomed the project, though it boycotted the function protesting against the CPI-M’s efforts to “politicise the occasion”.

“We have never opposed the Jindal project as the industrialist is buying land directly from the owners and also giving a good package. I don’t know whether our representatives will attend the programme. But I want to make it clear that our agitation in Singur was against forcible acquisition of agricultural land. We were never against industrialiasation,” said a senior Trinamool leader.

With the area falling under a belt that has seen several attacks by Maoist extremists, security was beefed up by several notches in and around the venue. Senior state police officers are camping at the spot, and police deployment was huge.