|THE PUBLIC HEARING AND FURTHER INVESTIGATION ON THE STRUGGLE BY THE PEOPLE OF SINGUR|
THE PUBLIC HEARING AND FURTHER INVESTIGATION ON THE STRUGGLE BY THE PEOPLE OF SINGUR
THE FINAL REPORT
Singur, the area with thickly populated, mostly farming rural communities, is not more than 40 kms away from Kolkata, the capital of the Left Front ruled-state, West Bengal. As in any other rural part of India, the habitat offers a diversity of occupations pursued by the population for generations – agriculturalists (landholding farmers and farm labourers), artisans, small traders and other self-employed like share croppers, landless migrants and resident labourers.
As in the rural hinterland of all cities, especially the large metropolis, across the country, here too, democratic spaces, social, economic, and geographical have been occupied– with the resources of the region having been redistributed, land-use pattern changed over years and decades. Not only did this happen through voluntary mobility of the people for jobs and opportunities in and near Kolkata, but also due to the land acquired or purchased by the State for various public projects and by the private investors taking over the land for non-agricultural business. As long as the processes of change were acceptable to the people, in spite of economic and social compulsions, inequality within and pull to push from outside, there was no conflict over the scenario of transformation at a pace, manageable for the most.
The conflict over the land takeover in Singur by the government of West Bengal was begun by the newly elected Left front government's CM, Shri Buddhadev Bhattacharya's declaration that about 1000 acres of land in the villages, Gopalnagar, Beraberi, Bajemelia, Khaser Bheri and Singher Bheri was to be acquired under the British Land Acquisition Act (1894) within months, for a Tata's cheap automobile factory.
The news from Singur and Kolkata informed every one that the local farmers and workers, especially women, had decided to protest and not give their land but drive away the corporates. Men and Women, united, were successful in keeping away the officials. Dharnas to rallies, open strikes to home-based fasts and various forms of struggle were resorted to by the local, would-be-affected people with the various human rights defenders and peoples' organizations for democratic development. The small and large political parties in opposition especially the Trinamool Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), also played a major role in mobilizing people and representing them in and outside the democratic forum of the state assembly. Tata's officials during their visit to the area were chased away, yet the swords remained hanging over their heads; the conflict worsened and was not resolved.
It was in this context, when determination of the government to go ahead was expressed, the Singur-based mass organizations of the affected, Krishi Bhumi Raksha Committee and "Sanhati Udyog"-an alliance of about ten organizations including the long serving Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, NAPM, Khet Mazdoor Samiti, MKP, Nari Atyachar Virodhi Manch and others decided to organize a Public Hearing in Singur area and invited us to be members of the Panel. A number of other organizations endorsed the hearing that took place at Gopalnagar on October 27, 2006. We accepted the invitation promptly with an intention to investigate into the vision and issues raised by the farmers here in Singur, related to the ideological arguments made in the public debate over present form of industrialization to SEZs in the country and if possible, help resolve the conflict.
We, the members of the Panel, met to receive the first briefing on the objectives and modus operandi of the Public Hearing from the host organizers which were discussed further and answers to the following questions sought:
1. What is the socio-economic profile of the Singur block in general and the villages / communities to be affected / displaced due to Tata Motors in particular?
2. What is Tata Motor project – production plan, economics, its proposal as well as Memorandum of Understanding or other contracts / agreements with the West Bengal Government? What dealings if any, have already taken place pertaining to the project?
3. What has been the process of planning the project – how transparent and participatory has it been and was the consent of the affected persons sought?
4. What is the perception of the common people – farmers, labourers and others affected, of the Tata Project, the State's role and the process till date, including land acquisition?
5. Has there been State Repression during the peoples' struggle and how far was it justified?
6. Can the Project bring in better life to the people of Singur? What is their share in the benefits? What is the land-use policy and the rehabilitation policy and plan that is officially declared?
7. How do the Left Front government and the parties view the Project and the peoples' struggle? What is the politics involved in the struggle and the State's response?
8. What are the implications of Singur Project and the struggle for future industrialization in West Bengal and elsewhere?
9. What could be the next step?
The Public Hearing was organized on October 27, 2006, in an open square in Gopalnagar where a large crowd of the Project affected women and men was gathered along with a few hundred activists belonging to a wider spectrum of peoples' organizations. Chairs were kept reserved for the invitees from the West Bengal government, including the Chief Minister, and the Ministers for Industries, Agriculture, Land reforms as well as the senior officials in the district administration (A sample letter of invitation: Annex A). None of them turned up and the Chairs remained vacant throughout the Hearing.
With a welcome and background presentation, Mr Amidyuti Kumar, a senior activist of APDR and Sanhati Udyog and one of the supporters of Krishi Jami Raksha Samiti, described the aims and objectives of the Hearing and its modus operandi. The floor was then opened to the local residents. The presentation began with a comprehensive deposition by Mr Becha Ram Manna, one of the leaders of the organisation, Krishi Jami Raksha Samiti, the organization at the forefront of the movement. The local residents spoke with great articulation, vivid description, determination and a vision, but also with anguish and pain. Others included landholders, joint landholders, recorded sharecroppers (bargadars), unregistered bargadars, agricultural labourers and other self-employed. Some senior activists, eminent educationists and advocates joined them. (A list of selected speakers and a gist of their depositions before the panel is annexed as Annexure B)
The facts that emerged include the following:
1. There are more than 10,000 families who live on the 1000 acres of land and other natural resources to be acquisitioned and destroyed for the upcoming Tata Motors (small, cheap car production) Project. They include about 6000 landholders, almost 1200 registered share-croppers, hundred unregistered sharecroppers. Others residing in the area since generations are landless labourers, artisans, small traders. There are thousands of regular, seasonal migrant workers who also live on the same resources.
2. The land records and the records of rights, including those related to mutation for the area, are not updated since years, even 2 to 3 decades. A few cases such as one of Ramachandra Koley of Gopalnagar were pointed out: in which the land is being legally acquired by the State for the private industry, yet the sale of land 20 years and more ago is not recorded in the name of purchasers, creating complication in land acquisition process and stalling payment of compensation.
3. The land to be affected is the prime agricultural land with multiple cropping, growing paddy, jute and rich and varied vegetables which is the main source of livelihood for those thousands of families. Each of the landholding mostly grew 12 to 4 crops while there are altogether about 14 crops cultivated in the area.
4. The government's claim of most of the land being waste is utterly false as wasteland constitutes a very small portion of the area to be acquired, less than 60 acres out of 997 acres. No doubt there was same change in the initial plan leaving out same good land but that is not enough.
5. Being closer to the capital, Kolkata, families also have an access to the temporary or permanent jobs and work opportunities there thus serving as supplementary to the main / life support for almost all of the persons, which is high productivity agriculture that is to be destroyed for the industry.
6. Land Acquisition Act, 1894, has been used but not through a fully legal process. No detailed information on the Project is disclosed, establishing it to be a public purpose project. Many, almost 45-50% of landholders have not accepted the notices, nor given their consent till date.
7. As per the recent notification dated March 6, 2006 by the Land and Land Reforms Department, Government of West Bengal has made a legal provision for the fast possible acquisition in the shortest of time, and the same seems to be the overall approach in the case of Singur.
8. The procedure under the LA Act and the above notification also is not followed fully and fairly, e.g., No proper publication of Section 4 notification in the village communities nor was any public hearing held; No "complete land acquisition proposal" as per the notification is made available.
9. The compensation offered is only of cash, as there is no state-level rehabilitation policy in the State of West Bengal. The compensation appears to be a large sum (6 lakhs to Rs 12 lakh/acre), but it is still lower than the market rate for Singur land which is Rs 20,000 to 40,000 per kotta, i.e., Rs 12 to 24 lakh/acre.
10. Except absentee landlords, who are not more than 30%, most of the other landholders (constituting about 50% of the total persons) are opposed to land acquisition as their rich, bountiful natural resource, i.e., livelihood, cannot be replaced or compensated, they believe, knowing the desperate situation of those displaced due to projects in the past.
11. The local people are furious due to the fact that the decision was never taken with them, nor are they informed about the Project, its need, its cost and benefits, the Memorandum of Understanding or argument, if any, and most importantly, the impacts – social and environmental.
12. The demands for information and documents made by the local farmer-leaders as well as an organization, such as APDR, through formal letters (as one dated September 27, 2006, appended as Annexure C) are not responded to, violation of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
13. The people strongly believe that a car project or any industry cannot come up at the cost of destroying the agricultural land, common peoples' livelihoods and perceive the same to be an onslaught on the farmers, who are already indebted and committing suicide, not in Singur, but in other parts of the country.
14. The Project cannot be more important than agriculture, and industry has to necessarily be set up on the wasteland or already acquired yet unused land. They referred to the options such as including the wasteland in and around Singur, the unused land of Hindustan Motors (Birla Enterprise), established in 1942, which was allotted 741 acres of land, but could use only 391 acres. At least 350 acres of land thus would be available and sufficient for the main factory of Tata Motors, which is estimated to require 100 to 500 acres of land at the most, if the entire infrastructure including official quarters etc is minimized and not provided at the same site. Other options can be in other districts far away from Kolkata such as Purulia, but again, care has to be taken to find land either without people having to be displaced or with their consent. The Tatas or any corporate, people believe, have become closer allies of the government of West Bengal, which is no more transparent and accountable to people especially the toilers in farming and fisheries.
15. The secretive deal, it's in the news and was reiterated by the people, is a result of exchange of support, especially financial, between the state government and the Tatas, as has been the ongoing practice, effecting the electoral policies to public policy making and projects. The change of the face, seen by the 'closed' stand taken and expressed by Shri Buddhadev Bhattacharya was condemned and challenged.
16. The people were especially disturbed over the unwarranted repression after midnight on September 25, 2006, when lathis were let loose on the peasants and labourers protesting peacefully, who were in gherao of the officials but had not taken to any violence. They were openly condemning the LF government for the killing of Raj Kumar Bhul, the youth who died the day after the attack. False cases filed against the people who faced attack themselves, were challenged.
17. The villagers and their supporters questioned the false charges and accusations by the police administration against innocent women and men and in one case even a two and a half year old child.
18. The land in the five affected villages, Gopalnagar, Bajemelia, Beraberi, Khaser Bheri and Singher Bheri falls in the command (beneficiary) area of the DVC and mostly irrigated with the river Kana and Julkia canal, and 4 bore wells.
19. A member of the Beraberi Gram Panchayat, Shri Dud Kumar Dharma, criticized the fact that there was no process of consultation nor was the Panchayat informed about the details of the Project by the planners. He was in anguish while saying that almost total of 827 bighas land in his 'mouja', Beraberi, is to be acquired, leaving out only 5 acres. This will lead to destitution and the violation of rights to food, work and life. He claimed there was no mention of land transfer recorded in the record of rights over last 30 years and hence acquisition process was flawed; even cheques accepted by many absentee landlords could not be encashed without an update. People expressed shock over plans to destroy the agricultural land falling in the common area of Damodar Valley Corporation property.
20. Some of the deposers know that the LF takes a different position in other states while it compels the farmers to fight in West Bengal where they are in power.
21. People are aware that farmers, labourers, artisans cannot be absorbed in the Tata Motors as has been confirmed in the official statements.
THE OFFICIAL VIEWPOINT:
Since no representative of the government, neither CM, nor a minister or even a bureaucrat participated in the public hearing, it was necessary that we heard one of them responsible and recorded the same. We could not get an appointment with the CM but we could meet Mr Nirupam Sen the Minister for Industries.
We had a two hour long dialogue with him and his senior officials at the West Bengal Industries Development Corporation. He gave us a gist of the Project's salient features and claimed the following among other things,
(a) "It's a trade secret", the Minister had publicly opined before our meeting. To us he argued it was not possible to disclose all the documents even when we referred to RTI Act, 2005. Finally he agreed to give whatever is possible, but nothing has come from them till date.
(b) "We have compared the land requirement with other auto factories and the area in Singur is the optimum".
(c) "We have left out some land to reduce displacement. Nothing more is possible and necessary".
(d) We have no rehabilitation package ready, now but we are planning, discussing and bargaining with Tatas
(e) "There is no state-level rehab policy which I can share with you now".
(f) "We know that the land is not a waste land as shown in the old records, most of it multiple crop land. We have a list of people to be trained for the factory, some of whom the Tata will absorb in the course but there can be no written guarantee".
(g) "The resistance is not real. Almost all have given consent, acquisition is completed and crores of rupees worth cheques distributed. Payment is on, along with updating of land records. Some payment is pending because of complaints regarding mutation. But we do it simultaneously."
(h) "The outsiders are creating trouble. On September 25, 2006 there was no lathi charge, but there was rather an attack by people who detained officers for hours and hence action became inevitable. We will not use police force, since people are willing and happy with the given price.
(i) We too know what poverty is and need industries, for GDP, growth and jobs. People cannot survive on agriculture alone.
(j) If we do not agree to Tata's choice of land, they will go away to other state. We cannot afford it. We offered Kharagpur land but they rejected. They wanted land with ready infrastructure as economics of a cheap car factory is worked out by them. They also needed it to be closer to Kolkata. There was no alternative.
(k) We have worked hard on this and we cannot leave this project. Our CM is for it.
(l) We are in a globalised, liberalized economy. Things have changed and we have to adjust.
We also tried to seek various statements, written and publicly announced, by the LF leaders. Some of the CPI (M) leaders referred to the article by Binoy Konar in Peoples' democracy. The same needs to be analysed at length as it has been shocking to many including us. The compromise with the capitalists, in line with Lenin's post-revolution New Economic Policy that it suggests is appropriate even in the present context, needs to be debated at an ideological forum. However, this is beyond the scope of this report.
The CM, during our telephonic conversation, was of the opinion that the concerns and interests of the people should be left to him and his government; that he is aware the related human rights issues; that he has obtained consent and that only 1% of the oustees are resisting the struggle. In addition he stated that opposition to the project as well as related press publicity is politically motivated and hence does not necessitate a response. Furthermore he argued that the police force and section 144 notification is fully justified and was clamped when TMC and CPI (M) wanted to hold rallies on the same day, Nov 30, 2006. According to him there have been no atrocities by the police while the agitators were using all violent means. He stated that we were also encircled by the Naxalites.
The summary of other documents which show inconsistency and contradiction is as follows:
1. People's Democracy (dated October 22, 2006) reports that "The way in which the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh has been acquiring land ……around the capital city of Hyderabad ….has assumed scandalous proportions with its modus operandi of depriving the poor and middle class people of their land and unduly benefiting the rich and the influential. Thousands of people who lost their valuable lands and the opposition parties have been agitating for a fair deal to the people who lost their lands in this questionable process." B V Raghavulu, state secretary and member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI (M), demanded the release of a white paper explaining factual position and the public announcement of all facts relating to these developments, and also demanded Judicial Inquiry into Land Acquisition & Land Grabbing. – The tragedy is that the same things are happening in West Bengal, especially in the case of Singur, and the same demands, as the CPI (M) in Andhra Pradesh, are being made by the people; but the LF Government, instead of paying heed, is actually following the path of the Globalisation-oriented AP Government.
2. The Sanyukta Kishan Sabha (RSP front) resolved at Kanpur (Oct 15, 2006) said: "different state governments are out to acquire multi-crop land to allow the big corporates. Some among the left attempt to toe the line of industrial development as envisaged by the proponents of neo-liberalism, tending to destabilize the agricultural situation."
3. The Left parties, including all LF partners, in a note to the UPA (Oct 2006) seek a review of the SEZ Act and ask for corrective steps such as (a) no transfer of land ownership to private developers, and that should be given on lease,(b) No SEZ should be built on non-agricultural land. Use of agricultural land should be discouraged (c) In a press note, Sept 26, 2006, it is said that the land acquisition Act should be amended suitably and apart from farmers, agricultural labourers should be considered as displaced people.
Unfortunately none of this is followed in the case of the Singur Project.
The State Government of West Bengal has remained unsupportive and adamant over the issue of opening up the Singur region and forcible occupation of the farmland for Tata Motors. One also feels concerned about the attitude and actions of the government – the CM to the administration and police – since denying the due democratic space to the peaceful villagers and activists may push the struggle towards a violent path. Having witnessed the various actors, the statements by the Left front partners and the war-like scenario in the field, we feel pained and shocked to realize that there is such an utter lack of respect towards the democratic rights of farmers and laborers in state where the Left holds power. Refusing to open up the Singur area even to peaceful, non-violent activists, the government of West Bengal seems to be continuing its "Operation Eviction" for the Tatas, with the huge police force that continues to camp in the villages. We have reports from the ground that confirm police atrocities – entering houses, driving people out, lath charging anyone who resists the repression. Unanimous reports from the villagers inform that the Party cadres of the CPI (M) joined the police in identifying, chasing and harassing the villagers unwilling to give away their land, destroying the vegetable crop in the field The government claims that fencing would be completed soon and within a week's time, the land will be handed over to Tatas, projecting it as its victory.
But all this is not without a strong protest, widespread resistance and a serious challenge to the Buddhadev Bhattacharya's government. We, two of the panel members, witnessed this on the day (December 2, 2006) after having reached Singur smoothly in a private car, in spite of the police barricades and peoples' blockade (organized by the TMC, Congress and other local organization) from place to place. On Dec 2nd, 2006 we met people in Singur included women, young and aged, who had faced teargas, rubber-bullets, beatings with lathis, police entering their homes, burning some paddy, some fuel-wood stored, breaking tiles and damaging of house materials as also molestation. Still in torn clothes, most of them came out of their houses with children and the aged and began walking with us from Beraberi to Khaser Bheri to point out to the large number (at least 150) of policemen still in the "Operation Drive out" in Khaser Bheri. Forgetting what they had themselves faced, they wanted us to act and stop the ongoing attack in village Khaser Bheri, and take due action on the arrest of the innocent farmers and labourers, women, men and a few children. Men who were obviously upset accompanied us, angry over the incidences of abuse face by their wives and mothers. The people pointed out two vehicles in the distance as those carrying party cadres, whom they referred to as "no 2 persons". All these farmers-bargadars were still not for giving away their two to four cropping land, irrigated holdings as their only source of livelihood. The moment we entered Khaser Bheri, we saw the two vehicles marching towards Durgapur highway leaving the village behind. A large group of policemen began running out of the village too. Deciding to catch at least one of the senior officers, we too had to almost run behind them. At least 100 women and men too joined us. By the time we could catch hold of Priyakanta Bakshi, Officer-in-Charge, Singur police station, police had stopped women, much behind, from joining us and later we saw a large number of Rapid Action Force cadres in black uniform coming out of Beraberi and pushing them with lathis, if not beating, as it was difficult to see the action from far. Men continued to walk with us, expressing some anger and some trying to pacify them. One stone was suddenly pelted from behind and it hit a police. We pleaded with the group not to retaliate and no other stone came in. Yet within next 10 minutes or so, we saw a few armed policemen running to a farmer wearing a lungi with open chest, far away in the field and they started brutally beating him on legs, dragging him, compelling to walk. The scene, caught by all the media-persons was unbearable and hence we ran towards the site, could stop the beating but not the arrest of the farmers. Within minutes, all villagers having been separated from us, we were gheraoed by tens of police and arrested us without mentioning sections under which the arrest was made. . Driving us all the way to Howrah, keeping us in the jeep or waiting for 3 full hours, with at least 8 vehicles full of police officials and others they declared Medha Patkar as the State Guest, while we refused to accept the offer. Those arrested included a senior journalist from Tehelka, Aditi Choudhury, and they stayed in the jeep overnight, insisting that the arrested who are falsely accused in fabricated cases should be released. The other members of the team, Dipankar Chakraborty, Amitdyuti Kumar and Sumit Chowdhury were arrested and separated from the other two and taken to Chinsura PS. They were subsequently released at the night on PR Bond. At least sixty others almost all the villagers were arrested on the same day, December 2 and the group included 70 to 80 years old persons, all from the affected families with only 4 to 6 activist women, belonging to Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha (Forum Against Oppression of Women), APDR and others. All the 18 women in the Chandannagar police custody whom we met the next day were charged under 12 sections, including 307 & 143, 147, 153. Many who could talk to us in the Magistrate's Court, Chandannagar, narrated the incidence of arrest from their houses, when they were cooking food, or engaged in house chores. Other were trying to protest the police entry, questioning them in loud voice, raising slogans and challenging forcible acquisition and occupation through fencing of their land. The mass protest that took place at the Chandannagar police station on December 3, 2006, brought out the fact that common people as well as intellectuals are anguished and openly condemns the atrocities and terror unleashed on the Singur farmers and labourers. The next day, a team with Medha Patkar, reached Chandannagar police station in support of the agitators in custody and held protest rally and public meeting, attended and addressed Amitdyuti Kumar of APDR, Pranab Banerjee and others of NAPM, Saktiman Ghosh of Hawkers' Sangram Committee, women activists of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti, along with local leaders of SUCI, Trinamool Congress and others. All the accused were released on bail, on December 7, 2006.
• Much before, from November 29 till December 1, 2006, there were incidents of serious highhandedness and brutal repression.
• On the November 29, 2006 when outsiders identified as CPI (M) cadres came in support of fencing with the police, the farmers who continued to work in the farms that were being fenced were attacked.
• A large rally and gathering by the CPI (M) was allowed on November 29th in Singur.
• CPI (M) cadres as well as large number of police including RAF cadres, marched through the streets of the affected villages, obviously to intimidate and scare people.
• On November 30, 2006, a rally planned by the Krishi Jami Bachao Committee and all organizations and parties in the struggle, was not just stopped but people proceeding in jathas were harassed and even lathi-charged. Ms Mamata Banerjee was arrested and reportedly, mishandled. Section 144 was clamped in the area through notification which is not just absurd but legally unjustifiable. The last few sentences suggest that anyone can be stopped from going to Singur alleging 'malicious reasons'. The same is being used to stop entry of selected activists-supporters, even the local people's gathering in the affected area and mass action. As the Chief Minister of the state put it in a telephonic conversation, this became inevitable since both CPI (M) and the TMC were insisting on holding a rally on the same day, i.e., on November 30. This is baseless. It may be noted that CPI (M) had held a rally on the previous day, i.e., November 29 itself which did not face any state interference.
Four persons were to be hospitalized in the hospital including one activist Bilash Sarkar with a fractured hand and a 12 year old child Jhuma Patra, D/o Ashok Patra, Khaser Bheri, who were seriously injured. The latest news is that except Bilash, others are bailed out but two are still critical. Our investigation from all quarters, don't suggest any violence, use of acid bulbs or other material used as the part of these wondered. We asked for a video cassette from the police officials who save this version but couldn't get the same.
All this and much more made it clear that when the Singur peoples needed supporters to reach out, the administration stopped them by notification under section 144, dated November 30 with such fraudulent justification and directive that is used to prevent the activists including Medha Patkar, a member of the panel. This happened twice again, on December 4 and 5, 2006, by a large contingent of police in vehicles, gheraoing the panel member with another activist, Anmendra Talwar of Khet Mazdoor Samiti, even when it was made clear to the police that they did not intend to break the section 144, and walk on foot in a batch of 2 or 3 persons. The reason for the arrest which was like an encounter with a terrorist, given by officers: (a) "You are a celebrity and you would gather a crowd in the Section 144 region." (b) "your mere presence instigates people", (c) "It's for your safety and security", (d) "There are violent elements hiding in the region who would take advantage of your presence". In spite of being in custody, at a Coal India guest house in Dankuni, it was neither declared as arrest nor a detention! The overall illegality was challenged in the High court to get a straight order declaring her as a free person with right to move anywhere. However the police vehicles cordoning and keeping a watch would not allow us to move towards Singur even and this continued till this report was out.
It could not, however, give us a guarantee and opportunity to reach Singur. The Chief Minister mentioned it before the Press in the Writers' Building as reported in the Times of India that she would be free to go anywhere, including Singur but denied it later during his conservation with me.
Singur, till date, stands isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, especially socially conscious and active persons as experienced also by a group of lawyers who attempted to reach there, even though media is not altogether stopped from going therein. The news pouring out from the region that Ms Asha Patra, a domestic servant who travels to Dankuni regularly, reported that a few hundred police entering her house and damaging her property while she was engaged in cooking.
More information is that many of the local leaders of the struggle, belonging to various social and political groups and movements. Trinamool Congress, SUCI and non-party organizations, of the Krishi Jami Bachao Committee, the local alliance of the peoples' struggle, are compelled to remain underground. At least 1000 policemen and police women continue to camp and remain present while fencing by hired workers, mostly outsiders is on. The Government of West Bengal has announced that 70% of fencing work is over and land will be handed over to Tatas within next eight days. (By the time the final report)
The peoples' resistance and stance remains the same as reported earlier. There is no queue for collecting cheques, nor submission for sacrifice of land as witnessed by those who are watching the local scenario. The people may not be on the street, in view of repression, terror and intimidation but are clear about their vision. This is clear from the local and other women and men and landholders protests; The fasting persons included Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the local MLA, known locally as 'mastermashai', which started on December 4, 2006, at village Khaser Bheri (i) hoisting black flags on a few hundred houses in all 5 villages, as a protest against land acquisition and atrocities, (ii) signature campaign and memoranda / affidavits on oath by farmers (landholders).
The struggle in support, outside Singur has intensified and spread enormously. V P Singh condemned the atrocities farmers and forcible occupation similar to those in U.P., college teachers and students from Jadavpur University, Presidency College and other academic institutions with a history of social commitment and revolutionary spirit have held large public meetings but are also participating in the actions all around; a few incidences of breaking the shareholders of Tatas, burning Tata products also indicate the anger expressed by a few and the likely unfortunate turn of events, as regards Singur. A wider alliance of 19 and more organizations and a few opposition parties, including Trinamool Congress, JD (U), Samajbadi Party, has taken a lead in various spontaneous and planned programs including blockades, "bandhs" and a long term, indefinite sit-in with a fast by six representatives of various peoples' organizations, such as Sanhati Udyog, APDR, Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti, NAPM, CPI (M-L), Kanoria Jute Mill Workers' Union, HM Samgrami Shamik Karmachari Union including Ms Mamata Banerjee is on. They were forcibly picked up on December 7, 2006, but their place is taken over by other local persons and at least 20 persons, it is understood, are fasting as of now.
There are spontaneous protests coming up and Singur is an issue of concern and action by various organizations in Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere with pro-left eminent persons like Arundhati Roy, Swami Agnivesh, Sumit Chakraborty, Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Aruna Roy, SP Shukla and others reacting to the rightist stance of compromise with the capitalist and violation of human and democratic rights by the Left, is an unprecedented situation. Along with JNU student's union, AISA, NAPM, Delhi Forum and other organizations, a protest sit-in took place at CPM headquarters at New Delhi and a dialogue was held with the politburo member, Nilotpal Basu and others, but with not much outcome in the impasse. Will this lead to a sincere debate on "the Secular Agenda" beyond the rhetorical party manifestos and Common minimum Programme of the alliance politics?
The politico-economic context:
It is clear that Tata Motors is only one of the corporate projects to come up in West Bengal. Beyond the industrialization in the past, this state too is on the fast track, seeking Foreign Direct Investment, holding extensive dialogue with the Indian and foreign industrialist-investors and facilitating, to say the least, acquisition and related displacement of villages – farmers to fish workers. While 50,000 plus industries which were closed or sick in the state, not due to the trade union activities as is sometimes claimed by the ministers but, the lack of investment of money, new technology and managerial as well as market-strategies, the workers are in the struggle too. Konoria Jute and Bawreah Cotton Mills have seen the long agitation to which there has been no great response.
The state also is in dire need of taking the next (second) step of granting land rights to the recorded bargadars 9 share-croppers) without which the Operation Burga is incomplete; after which cooperative ventures in agriculture and agro-industries could have absorbed landless and peasants in the supporting industrialization.
There is still 30% of the state's population to be made literate, 48% of children suffering from malnutrition and lakhs of youths registered in the employment exchange to be provided with jobs. One cannot accept without convincing plans and with negative past experience that these farmers to be evicted from farms and natural resource-based livelihood would be absorbed in the Tata Motors or which ever industry that would come up on their land, without they being recognized, respected and treated as the real investors. The experience of the adivasis displaced by Tata's Project in Haldia Municipal Corporation area, district Midnapur, or Jharkhand and Bihar, or the affected families whose land has acquired for Tata motors in Pune, Maharashtra also does not give any ray of hope.
The planners' view that the natural resources which are not property but life-support can be simply taken over with money as the only means of compensation is no more accepted to most of the farmers. In Singur too, the resident-owner-cultivators are clearly distinguished in their position of no displacement or minimum displacement expressed with regard to the questions of section 4 of Land Acquisition notices till date. It's thus a false claim by the government of West Bengal that almost all the farmers owning 957 acres of 997 acres have given consent to parting with the land for offered cash. The compensation offered as per unofficially but reliable sources, is 6 lakhs to 8 lakhs per acre, which is half of the open market value which would come to Rs. 12 to 24 lakh per acre. The different value is for the sale land and for the land adjacent to the highway is higher than the highlands. The sale statistics from recorded value of sale is always known to be unrealistic and underestimated.
But the question is not of money, it's of livelihoods, right to life and right to cultural diversity too. Instead of getting thrown into the slums on the periphery of urban areas, if farmers prefer to continue in agricultural activities, they cannot and should not be forcibly made to get off their present socio-cultural-economic natural environment. Even if houses are not acquired, those losing lands would certainly be compelled to migrate out of their natural environment.
That rehabilitation, an aspect on which the government offers to hold a dialogue, is seen as an unattainable task and unjustifiable impact, imposed without option assessment and impact- assessment both (is certainly not the first and the foremost aspect). The National rehabilitation Policy of 2003 also states as its first objective: To minimize displacement. This too is not followed and attained in the planning of Singur's Tata Project.
The debate on Tata Project has now become public. There are clear questions raised about the magnitude of land required for Tata Motors. This may be almost equal to some other national and international automobile projects but there is also Pune, Maharashtra, unit of Tata, manufacturing cars, trucks etc, standing on 510 acre ( Ravindra Kumar, The Statesman , Kolkata edition, December 5, 2006) and it's obvious that all the acquisition for industries in the state IDG as well as SEZ is of much more land than needed for the core units and include infrastructure with the residence of officials, independent water and power project too. The luxury and comfort enjoyed by the corporates there is at the inhuman cost of nature and people. Even the British Act of 1894 (Land Acquisition) stipulates as one of the reasons for raising objections to the land acquisition the fact that more land than necessary is being acquired. But who cares? When there is no hearing given to the individuals who are affected under Section 5(A), the questions are raised not at the legal but public fora by the displaced as in the case of the Singur struggle.
Tatas have not responded to the options offered openly as the state is representing them, anyway. It is clear from our dialogue with the Industries Minister, Shri Nirupam Sen, however, that Tatas refused to accept an offer of land at Kharagpur for the same purpose and preferred only Singur as the site closest to the mega polis of Kolkata with a ready infrastructure, including Durgapur Expressway. Can this be acceptable? As in SEZs too, the chosen land, the magnitude and everything, including the Rehab Package as Mr Nirupam Sen admitted, is to be bargained with Tata and cannot be that of the State. This is awful and clearly speaks of the absence of level-playing field and the iniquitous status granted favouring the investors of money, not the investors of natural resources. The market forces de-recognise the latter, no doubt, but when the Welfare State too does this, what remains of the Constitution, written in the name of the people of India, one may ask.
Coming from the LF government, it ridicules the rhetorical claims by all political parties in their election manifesto of being transparent and accountable. This is proved from the lack of response to our letter, to the ministry for Industries, seeking information and documents as panel members, even after his oral promise to furnish some of the documents. APDR, a human rights organization also has had a perturbing experience in this regard.
The issues that arise in the above context of Singur struggle thus are as follows:
1. The development planning process, if it is democratic and towards fulfillment of public purpose, cannot be carried out or justified without peoples' participation , which has to begin with the community rights to its resources and flowing from the same, has to move to right to planning, priorities in development projects and cost-benefit-based plans to harness the resources.
2. When large number of farmers and sharecroppers, as also for the labourers in Singur have not given consent to the project, which is proved from the data and list of affidavits, enclosed here with, the force of police, used brutally, is an unconstitutional and inhuman way to push the project.
3. A battle that has been on between the administration and the people in the field is a clear indication of no consent granted by a large number of the oustees, proving the official propaganda to be a falsehood.
4. There is no proper Gram Sabha held as per the 74th amendment to the Constitution and hence the democratic rights stand violated.
5. The public purpose to the public benefit, beginning with the directly affected in the case of Tata Motors is far from established. A national debate on the land and natural resource use poll has to begin at the earliest.
6. The land acquired is mostly irrigated with canals and the river Kana, prime agricultural land with all advantages, which the state should not destroy. DVC Project benefits should not go waste and the water resources should be further harnessed for the same land, which need to be saved.
7. The Corporates cannot be allowed to profit at the cost of agriculture and living communities. No destination and displacement where replacement of the land lying unused with other corporates such as this motors.
8. It is not proved that Singur is the best option to minimize the social and environmental impact, following the National Rehabilitation Policy 2003. It is therefore no time to discuss all the optional sites proposed- within Singur also in other districts.
9. Development can't flow through barriers of police brutality, intimidation tactics in Singur. This war must come to an end and not be intensified with the party cadres brought in as indicated by none else than a party leader himself.
10. There should be no violence on the part of the State; the people must continue to struggle peacefully with Singur as a part of the country which should be opened to all supporters and visitors immediately.
11. The fasting persons as well as the peoples' movements should be involved in a dialogue, creating a cordial atmosphere by withdrawing the police force and apparently false cases.
12. The dialogue must be not only on the issues of human rights and civil liberties, but people's right to resources and planning. It must begin with the project and industrialization in the context of the above issues, displacement and include economic aspects.
a. WE APPEAL TO THE LEFT FRONT GOVERNMENT TO TAKE A PRO-PEOPLE POSITION, SAVE FARM LAND AND FARMERS AS ALSO DEMOCRACY. NO PROJECT SHOULD BE FORCED UPON PEOPLE.
b. INDUSTRIALISATION MUST ONLY BE COMPLEMENTARY AND SUPPLEMENTARY TO AGRICULTURE AND NOT TAKE A TOLL OF THE AGRO-ECONOMY, PROVIDING FOOD SECURITY TO ALL AND LIVELIHOOD SUPPORT TO MORE THAN 60% OF OUR POPULATION.
c. THE CONSTITUTION AND THE LEGAL AUTHORITIES INCLUDING NHR SHOULD INTERVENE AT THE EARLIEST TO STOP HUMAN RIGHT VIOLATION BEFORE THE HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, i.e., DECEMBER 10, 2006.
d. TATAS MUST OPT FOR ANOTHER LAND, GIVING A PART OF THEIR HUGE PROFITS FOR THE PEOPLE.
e. THE LEFT FRONT WITH ALL ALLIED PARTIES MUST TAKE A CONSISTENT POSITION IN ALL STATES ON NO TRANSFER OF AGRICULTURAL LAND UNDER CULTIVATION IN ANY PROJECT AND IN SEZs.
f. THE LF MUST TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO INITIATE A PUBLIC DEBATE ON THE SERIOUS QUESTION OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE RAISED BY THE SINGUR STRUGGLE AND FACILITATE A NATIONAL POLICY ON DEVELOPMENT PLANNING URGENTLY, BASED ON THE DRAFT ALREADY APPROVED BY THE VARIOUS PEOPLE'S ORGANISATIONS AND MOVEMENTS.
SHRIMATI MAHASWETA DEVI JUSTICE (RETD) MALAY SENGUPTA
SHRI DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTI MS MEDHA PATKAR
DATED: DECEMBER 8, 2006
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