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Economy May 31, 2013

That Singur feeling: Modi may be nearing his Nano moment in Gujarat

By Rajesh Pandathil

Narendra Modi's political strategy may be working wonders for him, but definitely not his business strategy.

According to a report in the Business Standard, discontent is brewing in 44 villages covering 126,000 acres of land in the Mandal Becharaji belt, which has been notified as special investment region (SIR).

SIRs are similar to special economic zones, but units established here are not just export-oriented. Apart from commercial and industrial units, such regions can also house residential areas and offer logistic connectivity.

Singur-reuters

Is Gujarat a Singur in the making?

According to the report, Gujarat is the only state to have put in place an SIR Act.

The Mandal Becharaji belt was notified an SIR after Maruti Suzuki India decided to set up its plant here.

But now, 36 of the 44 gram sabhas in the region have passed a resolution opposing this notification as they feel their fertile land is being taken away to create an industrial hub, the BS report said.

"If the SIR plan is not called off, we will also oppose the Maruti plant coming up at Hansalpur," Ajmalbhai Thakore, village chief of Hansalpur, where Maruti is setting up its plant, has been quoted as saying in the report.

The opposition to the land use is not only in Hansalpur. Even in Vithlapur, where Maruti has acquired 700-800 acres of land, villagers are opposing the move, said the report.

Clearly, the simmering discontent against the widespread industrialisation in Gujarat is now coming to the fore.

There is also an irony in the government's move. Farmers in the region waited for many years for water from Narmada dam and their land is being acquired at a time when they were about get this water, the BS report said quoting former BJP rebel Kanu Kalsariya.

The issue, which is reminder of the Tata Motors troubles in West Bengal, is another proof that whoever be at the helm, Narendra Modi or Mamata Bannerjee or any from the Congress, the development debate remains the same: Should agricultural land be acquired for industrial use? How fair is it considering acquiring fertile land tantamount to robbing farmers' off their livelihood?

If the farmers in these Gujarat villages indeed up their ante, the key thing to watch out for will be how Modi, the politician, is dealing with the them. Will he use an iron hand or find a solution amicably. Whatever be his strategy, it is not going to be easy sailing for him.

by Rajesh Pandathil

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