JSW plant coming up on 4,454 acres holds out promise of bright future

Fifty-five-year-old Bulu Sheet's eyes light up as he speaks about the prosperity that the 10,000-million-tonne steel plant, to be set up by the JSW Steel near this village in Paschim Medinipur district will bring to locals. Thatching the roof of his house, along which the boundary wall of the plant runs, the landless labourer expressed the hope that his three sons would get jobs once the project came up.

The 4,454-acre barren laterite land, which the JSW Steel has acquired for the Rs. 35,000-crore project, holds out promise of a bright future for the locals.

Following the opposition at Singur and Nandigram to West Bengal's journey towards industrialisation, the announcement of this project provided the much-needed optimism for a better livelihood to the local populace.

However, the landmine explosion triggered by Maoists targeting Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's convoy on November 2, 2008, while he was on his way back after laying the foundation stone, and the subsequent escalation of Maoist violence in the region as well as the economic downturn slackened the pace of the project, leaving the residents swaying between hope and despair.

Anxious wait

During a recent visit to the site, it was found that even as the company began raising the boundary wall, employing local people for the purpose, educated youth in the area were anxiously waiting for the commencement of the project. Dipak Mahato (22), studying for a master's degree at Vidyasagar University, dreams of getting a job at the plant some day.

“My family had willingly given up agricultural land for the project for a job. Though the compensation was adequate, it is fast drying up in the absence of any other source of income. So the sooner the project starts, the better for young men like me,” he said.

Unanimous support

Admitting that farm yield in the region was always below par and job opportunities were scarce, Biren Santra said the villagers unanimously supported the project.

Biren had given up his plumber's job in Kolkata and opened a grocery-cum-restaurant at the entrance of the project site, hoping for a better future.

While every villager across social sections is vocal against Maoist violence and believes that it is hampering development in the region, no would discuss politics. “What do we have to do with politics and politicians? Our only demand is that the project come up soon and we will support anyone who works towards it. Other than that, political debates only make good media stories but leave poor people like us in the lurch,” says the middle-aged Haladhar Manna.

The ground-breaking work at the plant site at Salboni is expected to start by October, a senior official of the company told The Hindu on Thursday.