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Mamata 'setting' agenda for West Bengal government

By Goutam Ghosh
December 28, 2009 13:27 IST
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Despite being in the Opposition in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee is 'setting' the agenda for the state government. In the past weeks, the government has taken three major policy decisions for which the Trinamool Congress had been agitating to make a public opinion.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist-led government has placed a Bill in the Assembly to upgrade the 192-year-old Presidency College to a unitary university. The move came soon after Banerjee called for conferring autonomy on the college. The state government has placed the Bill in the Assembly, which is now with the standing committee of the House.

The state government has also accepted an in-principle offer made by the railway minister to set up a railway coach factory on the land of the abandoned Tata Nano factory at Singur, though observers see it as a political move to corner Banerjee.The state government had tried to rope in Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd to set up a plant there, but the state-run company said it would not be viable.

Partha Chatterjee, leader of the Opposition in West Bengal Assembly, said: "Mamata Banerjee observed a 26-day fast to make the state government see sense. This is a result of the sacrifice of our workers for so long. The CPI-M is implementing our proposals as a strategy so that they can say that they have accepted the Trinamool's proposals. They know they will be voted out in 2011. The land in Singur is with the Tatas. The government is not giving it to the railways. The point is, they are not sincere."

The CPI-M also feels that Banerjee is not serious about Singur. Basudeb Acharia, leader of CPI-M in the Lok Sabha and former chairman of railway standing committee, said: "First, she did not allow us to set up the factory at Singur. Now, just for the sake of saying, she is talking about a rail coach factory. But she has no concrete plan. Moreover, two railway coach factories are already coming up—one in Uttar Pradesh and another in Bihar. She has also spoken about upgrading the Kanchrapara coach factory. So, it needs to be seen how many coach factories are needed. Many factories have closed down during her first tenure as railway minister—MAMC in Durgapur, for example. I think, she is not serious and she is floating these proposals just for the sake of it."

The latest instance for the state government to implement Banerjee's pet proposal is the West Bengal Estates Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which has been passed and by which the state can acquire the land of the locked-out factories and tea gardens. While opposing acquisition of fertile land at Singur and Nandigram, Banerjee had suggested several times to the state government to use the land locked in the closed factories.

The state government, at that time, had contended that the process of taking back land from closed factories would not be an easy one. At present, around 0.463 million acres has been leased out for setting up factories and tea gardens. The state government has, so far, identified 41,000 acres.

Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said that the Estates Amendment Bill had been brought to plug the loopholes in the earlier law. "I don't know what Mamata had demanded and when. But this amendment has been brought in because with the earlier law, it was difficult to take back leased out land from factories and tea estates. Now, a lot of malls, shopping complexes and housing complexes have come up on the lands of locked-out factories. Those who have already developed properties there, will have to come to a settlement after this amendment," he said.

Higher Education Minister Sudarshan Roy Chowdhury also denies Banerjee's influence in the case of Presidency College. "Mamata only said that the state government did not take any decision on the autonomy of Presidency College. She does not know the position of UGC vis-a-vis autonomy and the related things. And furthermore, we do not need any advice from her on education."

Abhirup Sarkar, an economist with the Indian Statistical Institute, says both the parties are trying to score political points over each other. "The Presidency initiative is good for the state government and the CPI(M) but not necessarily for the state. It depends on how it is implemented. If the implementation is flawed, which seems likely, it will be just another university," said Sarkar.

On the Singur land, he feels the Tatas want to give up the land if paid back. "Mamata's Singur proposal is good for the Trinamool Congress and maybe for the state as well. The state cannot give back the money to the Tatas so easily. Many more political battles will be fought over Singur for sure," he added.

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Goutam Ghosh in Kolkata
Source: source