CALCUTTA, India, (AP) – An Indian state government said Saturday it is dropping plans for an industrial zone after deadly riots by farmers furious that their land was being taken for the project.
The deaths of 14 farmers in clashes between police and demonstrators on Wednesday in Nandigram ignited riots across the eastern state of West Bengal. More than 800 people were arrested.
“The Nandigram incident is unfortunate and sad, and the government will be on guard to ensure that it does not recur,” Biman Bose, a senior West Bengal state government official, said after an emergency meeting of the state’s Communist government.
“Land would not be acquired for any special economic zones in Nandigram,” Bose said. He also said the government would begin to remove police forces, who returned to the area on Wednesday after abandoning their posts during related violence in January.
The trouble in Nandigram first erupted on Jan. 7 after the leak of a government plan to acquire 22,000 acres of land in the area, and to build a petrochemical plant and shipyard.
The January violence prompted the federal government to temporarily suspend plans to establish scores of special economic zones intended to attract overseas investors with generous tax breaks. Most of the zones, including one to be set up in Nandigram, were to be built on farmland.
India is trying to attract foreign investment to spur its economy and help develop its largely backward infrastructure, and Federal Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said the government was still committed to setting up trade zones in other areas.
In an interview with the CNN-IBN news channel, Nath promised a more cautious approach when land acquisition was an issue.
“Where there is no land in dispute, why should we be worried about it? I am an optimist,” Nath told CNN-IBN in an interview to be broadcast Sunday. A transcript of the interview was posted on the channel’s Web site Saturday.
“If foreign direct investment is coming to our special economic zones it can also jolly well go to Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia,” Nath said. “Investment has to be attracted. It can’t be demanded.”