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FEB. 11, 2007
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Taxing Times
The phase-out of central sales tax is yet another move towards ushering in the national goods and services tax (GST). The compensation to the states, in lieu of CST phase-out, will include revenue proceeds from 33 services currently being taxed by the Centre as well as 44 new services of an intra-state nature that will be traded by the states. However, VAT is the way forward, though much needs to be done to iron out the anomalies in the current VAT regime.

India, Ahoy!
Indian investments overseas are growing and how. For instance, total Indian investment in Latin America and the Caribbean has topped $3 billion (Rs 13,500 crore) so far. The latest investment is by ONGC Videsh, which acquired an oilfield in Colombia for $425 million (Rs 1,912.5 crore). Earlier, ONGC bought an offshore oilfield in Brazil for $410 million (Rs 1,845 crore).
More Net Specials
Business Today,  January 28, 2007
Battleground Nandigram
A nondescript village in West Bengal has become a proxy for popular resistance to the government's SEZ policy, says Ritwik Mukherjee.
A widening chasm: Villagers have dug up most roads leading to Nandigram to keep out the police and CPI(M) members
JANUARY 15, 2007
9.00 A.M., Nandigram (Purba Medinipur), 165 km from Kolkata

The place resembles a war zone. Most roads leading up to Nandigram have been dug up; the craters are 2-3 feet deep and several feet across. Where they still exist, local villagers have erected makeshift brick walls, blocking passage. And citizen's committee members patrol the area round the clock, stopping strangers (my colleague from BT Photo and I were stopped at more than a dozen places) and generally keeping vigil against "biased news reporters, government officials and CPI(M) members". It's hard to believe that I'm in West Bengal, but the Party (a synonym for the ruling party) is clearly on the run in this neck of the woods.

Revving up: Trinamool lends a hand

We reached Nandigram after a four-hour drive from Kolkata. From here, it was a 30-minute walk to Abu Tahir's bicycle shop in Chowringhee Bazar. Tahir, a leader of the Bhoomi Bachao Committee, is our local contact; the meeting has been arranged by a senior political leader in Kolkata. "Why do you want to go into the interiors?" he asks. We explain our mission, but he is dismissive. "What's the point? You'll go back and write that there are only jungles here... might as well go back and write that anyway," he says, somewhat menacingly, as another member of the committee, Seikh Sufian, walks in and joins the discussion. We press our point and finally convince them to give us a guide. A fairly large crowd has gathered around us by now. "Who are these people, Tahir Bhai?" they want to know. "Are they government agents?" Tahir replies in the negative and introduces us. "Don't worry," he says, "they're not Buddha Babu's agents; they work for a Delhi-based publication."

11.00 a.m.-3.00 p.m.: We've been riding on the carriers of two bicycles for the last hour. Our guides, arranged by Sufian and Tahir, take us through lush countryside dotted with medium-size hamlets-we've passed by more than half a dozen of them in the time we've spent hitching a lift. "About 80,000-85,000 people live in 38 villages across the 37 sub-divisions that the government wants to acquire," says one of our guides. Around us, we see crops of lentil, betel leaves, peas and paddy, giving lie to the government's claim that it is acquiring mostly non-arable lands. Prawn farming is also big in this area.

Bridge to nowhere: The concrete bridge (left) has been torn down to cut off the area from Haldia; (R) a prawn farmer
Our route takes us to a four-point crossing where a concrete bridge has been torn down to cut the area off from Haldia, a CPI(M) stronghold, 15 km away. A group of villagers is standing guard here. The leader, who, we later learn, is called Abdullah, flags us down. He's obviously well known to our guides who introduce us.

"Arms and bombs are being smuggled in from Haldia using that route," he alleges, pointing to the Haldi river in the distance, "but we're prepared." What does he mean by 'prepared'? He signals us to sit on a charpoy under a shady tree and explains: "Every Muslim family has a loud-hailer and Hindu family a conch shell. They have been instructed to play Azaan (the call for prayer) tunes on their loud-hailers or blow their conch shells at the first hint of trouble; that will alert our self-defence committees and give us notice of an impending attack." He adds that though the villagers are armed only with sticks and sickles, they are prepared to take on their (allegedly) better-armed opponents if the need arises.

Final stroke: The writing’s on the wall
Sinister moves: Arms are allegedly being smuggled in on country boats
And why isn't the government fixing the roads and the bridges that have been damaged? "We will not allow these to be repaired. They will only become conduits for the Party and the police to come and attack us," Abdullah adds. "We've been hardcore CPI(M) workers all our lives," says a member of his group, "and know how the Party operates like the back of our hands."

3.00-6.00 p.m.: Our backs are breaking from being ferried around on cycles all day but we labour on. En route is a village called Jellingham. "The government acquired close to 1,000 acres of land here 18 years ago. The Party promised us compensation and jobs in the factory that Burn Standard was supposed to put up on it. No money has yet been paid and, obviously, no jobs created (the plan for the factory has since been scrapped). So, how can we trust the government this time around?" Abdullah asks.

The clock is ticking away. "You people had better head home. This place is not at all safe after sunset," he says. I tell him that I want to meet some CPI(M) leaders to get their point of view. "Most of us have been CPI(M) workers for 30-35 years, but are now opposing the party's decision to take away our land," he says. And those leaders who remain with the party have fled this area. I blink away my disbelief.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has since called off all land acquisition proceedings till he comes out with an equitable and acceptable policy on the issue. Nandigram, meanwhile, continues to sit on the edge of a precipice.