The impasse over Singur may end as early as Thursday, if Mamata Banerjee is to be believed. Her comments that a solution could come in a day or two brought much relief to the government in West Bengal, which has been dreading an embarrassing pullout by Tata Motors and its impact on the state’s image. In New Delhi, where top executives from several global auto giants assembled for a two-day industry event, Banerjee’s statement was seen as “conciliatory enough” to make the Tatas stay put.
Chances are the protesters in Singur will retreat; the government would sweeten the compensation package for farmers whose lands have been acquired for the Nano project; Tata Motors resumes work at Singur; and come Durga Puja, Bengal gets the first Nano.
That’s like a happy ending to a typical Bollywood script.
Nevertheless, what happened in Singur has brought the age-old debate of development versus displacement back into focus.
It is a reminder of how the political class and businesses in the country have repeatedly failed to build trust not only between each other but also with people at large. So much so that even projects like Nano, billed as a people-friendly initiative, are being hit by such distrust and the perception that built on it.
The Singur controversy offers yet another opportunity for a serious rethink on the issue. As we speak, there are dozens of large industrial projects across the country facing resistance from local people, who have either lost, or risk losing, their livelihood because of those projects. In many cases, the grievances are genuine and are not being addressed by either the authorities or the companies involved.
If India has to move on with its economic expansion, it will need more plants to be built.
Displacement of people will be unavoidable, but protests will not be inevitable if governments and businesses work to bring systemic solutions and make the displaced people a stakeholder in the development process.
On Wednesday, Mamata ended her address to protesters Singur saying: “Industry and farmers smile. Smile, smile, smile...”
True, the smiles have to be shared by all. But then leaders like Mamata have a lot explaining to do.