|Singur: Didi acts like a dada|
|Saturday, 11 June 2011 00:00|
This has to be the most laughable aspect of the sorry Tata-Singur saga. While announcing the ordinance to take back 400 acres of land given by ‘unwilling’ farmers for the Tata Nano plant, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee cites Tatas’ non-performance! That is, the group had failed to do anything with the land they had got from the West Bengal Industrial Development Corp (WBIDC) around 3 years ago.
First, she uses Singur to kick the Tatas out, along with 34 years of CPM rule, and then she accuses them of not doing anything with the land. While it is true Mamata needed to take back the land to satisfy her political constituency, let’s keep in mind the entire land purchase was upheld by the Calcutta High Court. Surely that has to stand for something? Mamata’s comment about being willing to pay a compensation to the Tatas is also laughable given that the land has been forcibly taken back—the land’s rightful owners now have to plead before an arbitrator for their compensation, and it’s unlikely the state even has the money to pay back anything.
Returning the Singur land was one promise she made, but so was the one to pull the state back from a stagnant phase, to return it to a growth trajectory, to generate more development and jobs for the state’s people. She needs industry to keep this promise. And what signal may the industry be getting from the Thursday ordinance? How are others who are supposed to invest in the state—we’ve heard of a rail coach factory and a Chinese auto hub—going to view all this? Land given to them can just as easily be revoked, and given Mamata’s brute majority, it doesn’t require an ordinance, it will be passed by the assembly.
Sadly, the practice of governments changing laws midstream, to suit their political interests, is not restricted to Mamata. In 2005, when ITC won the R803 cr excise evasion case, the Centre had to refund, with interest, the R350 cr advance tax it had taken from the company. Instead, it passed an ordinance with retrospective effect to change the excise laws and kept the R350 cr and interest. In 2005, when there was a dispute on edible oil, the Budget had a retrospective amendment, all the way back to 1986; another amendment in the same Budget went back to 1996. Many Budgets have similar retrospective amendments, but Pranab Mukherjee’s last Budget takes the cake—despite the SEZ Act exempting SEZs from taxes, he slapped a MAT tax on SEZs. And we still expect investors to trust us.