New York, Sept. 17 : Diverting scarce fertile farmland to industry is not a new phenomenon in India, and the present agitation in Singur, West Bengal, involving the grant of land to the TATA's for the manufacturing their 2,500 dollar car is a prominent example of a "dark cloud looming over India's economic transition," claims the New York Times.
At the heart of the challenge, one of the most important facing the Indian government, is not only how to compensate peasants who make way for India's industrial future, but also how to prepare themfor the new economy India wants to enter, the paper says.
In recent years, clashes over land have dogged several major industrial projects in virtually every corner of the country.
In Orissa, betel leaf farmers have held up South Korea's 12 billion dollar POSCO steel project. In Goa, several proposed Chinese-style special economic zones have been scrapped after sustained public protests and in areas outside Mumbai, village councils are insisting on a referendum for an economic zone proposed by Reliance Industries honcho Mukesh D. Ambani.
In nearly all these cases, the peasants who resist most intensely are often those who know they are qualified to do little beyond eking out a living off the land.
Farmers and farmhands are often egged on by politicians to stage protests to raise the land price or to renegotiate deals.
According to the NYT, the government is often the target of their ire and part of the problem lies in the fact that the Central Government is yet to come out with a national policy on how to compensate those who lose their land.
The paper quotes Subir Gokarn, chief economist for Standard and Poor's in India, as saying: "If the price is right, people will sacrifice the emotional attachment, but if you no longer have the guarantee of living off the land, then what do you do?"
"The people who are being displaced are not the people who see themselves as benefiting immediately from the employment opportunities," he adds.
Social activist Medha Patkar says: "Land is livelihood, it's not just property."
The villages of Singur, where the Nano was to be produced, stand at the crossroads of the two Indias.
For Tata, it is ideally located along a new national highway that heads north to New Delhi, the capital, and intersects an important east-west artery.
For farmers, it is ideally located on the fertile delta plains of the Ganges River and fed by irrigation canals, making the earth so rich and red that it yields two rice harvests a year, in addition to potatoes, cucumbers and squash.
West Bengal lured Tata here with heavy incentives, including a generous land lease and tax breaks from the state's industrial development agency.
Some of these details of the company's hitherto secret contract with the government have emerged in recent days, prompting the company to go to court, where a ruling blocked further disclosures.
The company has several other plants where it could produce the Nano in time for the Hindu festival season next month, traditionally a time of big spending. It has dangled the possibility of making the Nano elsewhere if the cost of production and the price of the world's cheapest car rise too high.