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Robbery of the Soil
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Robbery of the Soil Robbery of the Soil Document Transcript

  • Quick Facts Annual loss of rice production in Singur due to land acquisition estimated to be 900 tonnes. 152 lakh tonnes production of rice in 2004 from West Bengal, which is about one fifth of the country’s production. State Government has issued notices for acquiring some 44,000 acres, including 997 acres in Singur. For the Singur land, government has paid a total sum of Rs. 100 crores. 5000 policemen and paramilitary forces sent to Singur to take possession of the land ‘Robbery of the Soil’Agriculture has always been called the backbone of the Indian economy. For decadesthe country has followed the slogan of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’. So at the time when thecountry is on the edge of food security problem a gold laying hen has been slained in lieuof golden eggs.The Singur issue is a bag full of contradictions. First, the leftists had been all alongtalking about land reforms but are now giving away a multi-crop, fertile agricultural landto Tata for a small car project of Rs.1000 crore. Secondly, the Left Government hasalways preached about welfare of farmers and fenced their state with barbed wires fromthe ‘barbaric’ capitalists so called capitalists as per Marxist Manifesto. At present thegovernment is acting like a bunch of hypocrites under the influence of corporate ‘spirit’.Why set up a small car factory in Hooghly district, which has less than 5 per centwasteland, when districts like Bankura and Purulia have 10-15 per cent barren soil? Thelocal population in the latter regions might welcome industry, with its economic andsocial spin-offs. If infrastructure in agriculturally backward regions is inadequate, thegovernment should focus its Bharat Nirman programme precisely in these areas and enterinto public-private partnerships.Why target prosperous rural regions, where people are not interested in leaving their landfor other occupations, when 21 per cent of India, or 68 million hectares, is wasteland? A
  • conflict situation can derail the momentum of an industrial venture and dent the image ofindustry and government.Singur, a small town in Hooghly district with a population of 20,000, came into thelimelight early this year when Tata Motors chose it as the location for the manufacturingfacility of its budget car that will be priced at Rs 1 lakh.Singur’s land, coated with silt from the Hooghly and Damodar rivers and their tributaries,is extremely fertile. To say that it is single-crop is to blatantly distort the truth. Whatdoesn’t grow here – paddy, jute, potato, cauliflower, pumpkin, brinjal, cucumber, somany types of greens and vegetables! About six to 12 crops grow on Singur’s highlyproductive fields. Paddy and potatoes grown here are the finest. There are five coldstorages, five deep and 27 mini tube wells in the locality, a clear indication that the landis well irrigated.It is around land that Singur’s economy revolves. Not only the landowners, a sizeablepopulation of bargadars, wage-labourers and sharecroppers – mostly belonging to thelower castes or the adivasi community – depend on the land for their livelihood.Land is so vital for Singur’s residents that if it goes their survival will be at stake. So,when the government is taking over their land, they are putting up a stiff resistance. Theywill give their lives but will not give up land. No matter what the government claims andthe media propagates, records show that less than 27 percent of the 11,000-oddlandowners have till date voluntarily given up their land. Those who have acquiesced areeither absentees or have done so out of fear or coercion.Meanwhile, the Land and Land Revenue Department, invoking the colonial LandAcquisition Act of 1894 (suitably amended in 1984), have taken over 997 acres requiredfor the Tata factory. This land has been declared as khas (vested) and is being sold to theWest Bengal Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation for handing over to thenewly formed company, Tata Motors. It is the clear violation of law; State can acquireland only if it is in the public interest, which is certainly not true in Singur’s case.Under pressure, because of a massive public outcry, the government agreed to raise thecompensation amount to 52 percent of the market price of land and, to persuadelandowners to sell their land, announced special incentives to those who would do so ontheir own. Yet, the government continued, and is still continuing, to extend the deadlinefor voluntary handing over and receiving the compensation cheques, the latest beingOctober 31.Uncultivable or low-lying marshlands – such as the one available in Singur itself, on theother side of the highway – are not liked by one of India’s largest capitalist enterprisesbecause filling up such land will incur a huge expense. Having a sharp business sense, theindustrial house is not willing to spend even a single paisa on developing land forindustrial use. They are happy as long as mountains of profit accrue. If it means disasterfor the farming community, so be it.
  • Whatever the trade-off between the Tatas and the Left Front government in West Bengal,it is shrouded in secrecy, in spite of the RTI. A local television channel has revealed thata considerable Rs 140 crores will go out of the state exchequer to buy the land and paycompensations while the Tatas will be gifted that land in lieu of a cheque for Rs 20crores, that too five years later. The industry house will be spared the ignominy ofpurchasing the stamp duty; and when the factory is under construction or in operation, itwill be provided water free from the burden of taxation even as the power rates will beslashed to what the domestic consumer pays with great difficulty.The Tatas are coming here to do business, not for the well being of the people of WestBengal. Orissa and Jharkhand, where the Tatas have invested in steel plants, mines,aquaculture and an assortment of projects in the past seven decades, are the poorest statesin the country. Industrial and other ventures by the Tatas have not changed the lives ofthe ordinary folk in these places. On the contrary, a terrible curse had befallen on theforest-dwelling and pastoral communities wherever the Tatas went. It may be recalledthat the Kalingnagar incident earlier this year, in which 12 adivasi men, women andchildren lost their lives in police firing, took place when the farmers displaced by the Tatasteel-plant project were agitating against the non-payment of compensation.The West Bengal government, through its agency, the West Bengal IndustrialDevelopment Corporation, has already begun acquisition of approximately 1,000 acres inthe face of much opposition. In July, the state cabinet cleared a land-acquisition proposalof 43,180 acres - concentrated in districts of North and South 24 Parganas, EastMidnapore, Howrah, Hooghly and Burdwan, all within a radius of 100-150 km aroundKolkata - for building SEZs, townships and industrial parks.The argument put forward by the minister of industries that the Tata motorcar factory willcreate vast employment opportunities is unadulterated nonsense. The market targeted forthe small car to be produced here is the two-wheeler owners who dream of a car and, tomake it easy on their pocket, the car’s market price has been fixed at Rs one lakh. Toproduce a car at such a discounted price, and keep a good enough margin for thecompany, a large workforce cannot be employed. In keeping with the globalising times,the technology, too, will be state-of-the-art, surely not labour-intensive. At most, a fewhundred jobs will result and those recruited will be from the hallowed precincts of theIITs and the IIMs.The honourable minister has argued that even if there is no direct employment in TataMotors, the ancillaries will open up the floodgates. He, of course, is not suggesting howmany such ancillaries will come up and how much employment generated by these. It isonly a speculative presumption not based on any rigorous calculation. Whether thehundreds of small, supporting units will also be technology-dependent and how muchagricultural land these occupy is yet a guessing game.The Tatas’ demand for 1000 acres for their car factory puts a question mark on theirintentions. To set the doubts at rest, the minister of industries recently cited the example
  • of the Honda automobile production unit in Gurgaon. He told the press that the Gurgaonplant has come up on 1250 acres of land and produces three-lakh cars per year. A visit tothe Honda website discloses another set of facts – the unit has come up on 250 acres andproduces six-lakh cars annually.In the dead of night on 25-26 September, in a pre-planned move, it let loose a reign ofterror on thousands of unarmed demonstrators at the BDO office in Singur town. It wasthe first day cheques were being handed over to those who had agreed to part with theirlands and the demonstration against this had begun in the morning. By the afternoon,several cases were detected in which those who had already sold off their land to others,but the mutation process was not complete, were being given cheques, denying thepresent legal owner. Protesting such illegal deeds by government officials, thedemonstrators sat on a dharna at the BDO office, even gheraoing the District Magistratefor a brief period. The firebrand leader of the only opposition party in the state arrived with her troupe and she, too, joined the dharna. Soon after midnight, power was cut offand a huge police force, reportedly under the influence of alcohol, mercilessly thrashedmen, women and children with lathis. The leader of the opposition party, also a Memberof Parliament, was manhandled and, with her sari torn to shreds, packed off in a policecar to Kolkata.Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee argues that more than 550 farmers have notconsented to the governments land acquisition move.The outcome: prices of land in all these locations have gone up by leaps and bounds.Brokers and real estate agents, who are by no means very reliable sources for suchinformation, say the increase has been 100 per cent and for advantageously locatedplaces, 200 per cent. This surge in prices are inducing farmers to sell their lands but whatwill ultimately happen to them after selling their only source of livelihood is an openquestion to be seriously debated.‘Eminent domain’ is when Government can take away private property without gettingthe consent of the owner. Say the government wants to build a road or a railroad orsuchlike, and they need to get a certain amount of land for this purpose, but the ownersdont want to sell. Well, the government can just seize the land, at a compensation that itdecides. Eminent domain is often justified on the grounds that it is necessary for the"common good," a suspicious phrase.Now, what is happening in Singur is even more of a scandal because the poor farmerswho are being forced to give up their land are having to do so not for a public project,like a road or a dam or suchlike, but for a private one. The government is effectivelytaking away land from poor farmers, and handing it over to a private company -- in thiscase, Tata Motors.The Tata project is now more of a prestige issue with the state government, which isgoing all out to woo big industry and investments.
  • From Leftists to NationalistsIt is now, no more a question of leftist or rightist, it has given birth to nationalist.Normally, the likes of Patkar, Mahashweta Devi and Roy would have been behind theBhattacharya government. But the latter is now pursuing a path diametrically opposed towhat the Left upholds. Medha Patkar, she has had to take on an anti-leftist positionbecause the Tatas have the full backing of the Marxist West Bengal Chief MinisterBuddhadev Bhattacharya. It is the same with the Akademi award winning Bengali writerMahashweta Devi, who is known for her Naxalite (Maoist) sympathies. And if these twoicons come together, can Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy be far behind? So, she toohas led a demonstration in front of the CPI-M office in New Delhi over the Singur issue."NOT RIGHT": Social activist Arundhati Roy (left) staging a protest outside the CPI (M)headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday against the West Bengal Governments decision to handover farmland in Singur to Tata Motors.But what is curious is that these aggressive votaries of Left find themselves today on thesame platform as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh and convenor ofthe BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) George Fernandes, both of whom areusually branded as fascists by Left activists.Rarely has there been a more variegated collection of personalities battling for a singlecause. Politicians in search of relevance, perennial do-gooders, Marxist and Maoistrevolutionaries, writers on the far left of the political spectrum, rightwing leaders - allhave assembled together to oppose the West Bengal government-sponsored automobileproject of the Tatas in Singur.If the fascists are looking for a cause that will bring them into the political limelight, soare the Marxist and Maoist revolutionaries. Hence, the 24-hour shutdown called by theminuscule Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) in West Bengal and the attack by ahandful of young men claiming to be Maoists on a Tata automobile showroom inKolkata.A Case of Hypocrites
  • Singur is not the first case in the history of leftists that illustrates the tale of theirhypocrisy, when the leftists were not in power in West Bengal; they used to favour thesettlement of the refugees in the Sunderbans. But their views changed after assumingoffice; just as it has now on industrialization. The Marichjhanpi incident in theSunderbans in the 70s (mentioned in Amitav Ghoshs The Hungry Tide) is a case inpoint. The hard-hearted manner in which the Left Front government evicted the EastBengali refugees from there and sent them back to Dandakaranya in what is nowChhattisgarh. The Left slogan today is not land to the tiller, but land to the Tatas.Nobody, not even the affected farmers and the opposition parties, deny the need ofindustrial regeneration in West Bengal. What they emphasise is that arable land must bespared, as in China and Britain. Nobody could imagine that a playwright and culturallyinclined Marxist like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee would, as Chief Minister, be so callous tohuman values. Leading the charge to protest against the handover of fertile agriculturalland for industrial purposes is the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who hasalways been known to oppose whatever the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)does. But it is the motley crowd around her that provides an insight into the political andsocial ramifications of the protest campaign.Brief on IndustrialisationAccording to a rough estimate, 65,000 units fell sick or were closed in these threedecades owing mainly to labour unrest under leftist rule since 1977. West Bengal whichwas second in industries among the states till the 1960s, slipped to the eighth position inindustrialisation.As chief minister, first five years of Mr. Bhattachrjee were virtually barren. Mr.Chatterjee signed a plethora of MoUs, earning the nickname, ‘MOU Dada’ but nothinghappened beyond reaching an ‘understanding’. The industrial scene did not improve inthe first tenure (2001-2006) of Mr. Bhattacharjee either. Although 172 new units cameup in 2004, with investment of some Rs 2004 crore, an estimated 276 lakh man daysin close to 6,000 working units were lost because of industrial disputes, strikes, ‘go-slow’ and gheraos.One cant help but wonder which infinite-optimism-inducing drug is responsible for thealmost-finalised decision of Tata Motors to set up a car plant in West Bengal. Yes,Buddha-Bhatta has worked hard to create a business-friendly image for the state andsingle-handedly injected a sense of optimism into the proceedings. But that optimism isdriven by the IT industry which has set up offices in Kolkatta because of cheaper land,and most importantly, and this can not be emphasised enough - no unionisation. In acruelly funny twist of irony, Buddha-Bhatta put IT under "essential services" to ward offfears of the unionisation which was responsible for turning West Bengal into industrialruins over the last half century.In Singur, the process of brutal acquisition by the police began on 2 December.Villagers were beaten up and tear gassed. The patriarch Jyoti Basu and the Chief Minister
  • frequently iterate the government’s determination to acquire and give the land to theTatas by 31 December, failing which they may withdraw their offer. Experts havewarned that the gains would be less than the almost certain losses. The government isin fact inflicting collateral damage. But the Chief Minister is defiant and determinedto have the Tata factories in Singur... ‘at any cost’.Food ShortageThe President and the Prime Minister are harping on the need for a second GreenRevolution, to which the Left parties expressed support but cannot answer, how in WestBengal, with some 1.5 lakh acres set for industries, will this revolution be possible.If the annual rice yield falls by nearly two lakh tonnes, there is bound to be a foodshortage even in a normal year.The state government’s wrong policies and programmes in education and healthcare are well recorded and have even been admitted by the leaders of the CPI (M)and other constituent parties. Agriculture, happily, was not tampered with. Agriculturein West Bengal is almost wholly in the private sector; the government subsidises only 5per cent of the production costs. Although a steady increase in fuel prices has, of late,affected mechanisation, agriculture still remains a golden goose in West Bengal. In2004-05, the state produced over 152 lakh tonnes of rice, about one-fifth of thecountry’s production.Out of West Bengal’s total area of 219.13 lakh acres, some 60% land (132.74 lakhacres) comes under seasonal cultivation. Only 7.76 lakh acres remain fallow for ninemonths in a year. On the rest, two or more crops are grown every year.The government has received demands for at least 125,000 acres of land from nofewer than 20 Indian and two foreign companies as well as from three Centralpublic undertakings for setting up various industrial units and projects. It hasissued notices for acquiring some 44,000 acres, including 997 acres in Singur.The average production of mainly three varieties of rice ~ aman, aus and boro ~being 905.3 kg per acre, the total yield in a year from 125,175 acres will be 192,363tonnes. Adding the yield from land whose sizes are not reported, the total quantity of riceof all varieties, to be lost to industries, will be at least two lakh tonnes. A huge quantityof potato and other vegetables, grown in many areas under acquisition; will also notbe available. West Bengal is deficient in wheat, edible oil and pulses; up to onemillion tonnes of each are imported from other States or countries (like palm oilfrom Malaysia). West Bengal has borders with Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand andOrissa, none of which grow surplus rice or vegetables. These commodities flow fromWest Bengal to these states but seldom vice versa. Drought, floods, cyclone andearthquakes must also be taken into account. So if the annual rice yield falls bynearly two lakh tonnes, there is bound to be a food shortage even in a normal year.The state’s population will increase, but arable land may get reduced further. Theper capita availability of rice, which was 419 grams in 1977, increased to 454 gramsin 2006. But with the rice yield decreasing by two lakh tonnes, it will go downfurther, accentuating hunger, malnutrition and starvation, particularly in tribal
  • regions. The average size of land-holdings, particularly in south Bengal districts, isalso decreasing. According to a ‘Status Report’, prepared by the Land Reformsdepartment, West Bengal is becoming a ‘Land Critical State’ and loss of some 1.25lakh acres to new industries and projects will aggravate this crisis. Already some41.35 lakh acres, nearly 19 per cent of the total land area, have been occupied byinfrastructure, industries and urbanisation. The department has warned that unlessappropriate utilisation is made of the land resources, there will soon be a landcrunch in West Bengal.The government has not issued any comprehensive document on acquisitions,despite demands for a White Paper by the opposition. As per Kolkata-based mediareports, at least 125,176 acres of arable land in nine districts have been demanded byinvestors and entrepreneurs and for much of it, acquisition notices have already beenserved. This excludes demands for some 2034 acres by a dozen Indian companies,namely, (i) by M/s Videocon in Taratala (South 24-Parganas) for manufacture of LCDmonitors for computers and in Kalyanbeel in North 24-Parganas for SEZ, (ii) by M/sPatton Group in Uluberia (Howrah) and 60 acres in Falta (South 24-Parganas, (iii) by M/sDabur near Siliguri for a food-processing plant, (iv) by SPS Group in Mejia (Bankura)and Durgapur (Burdwan) for the manufacture of a transmission tower and transmitter,respectively, (v) by the Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA) for a Jute Park inHaringhata (Nadia), (vi) by M/s Amrit Group in the Sundarbans (South 24-Parganas) forsetting up three non-conventional energy plants, (vii)14 acres by Tek Mahindra forsetting up an IT Centre, (viii) 500 acres by M/s Hind Industries, (ix) 130 acres by IndiaTourism Corporation (ITC) for setting up a new, and extension of its existing, hotel, (x)50 acres by a German company, M/s Metro Cash & Carry for doing wholesale trade invegetables, and (xi) by M/s River Bank for setting up an IT Park and township inBatanagar (South 24-Parganas).Plight of FarmersOnly about one-third of the farmers’ annual income comes from agriculture and two-thirds from non-agricultural pursuits. More than half of West Bengal’s farmers are indebt, the average yearly debt per family being Rs 5,237. Most of them have land-holdingsless than one acre. Increasing debt compels them to give up land or become landlesslabour.Sixty-five per cent of the state’s population is engaged in agriculture that contributes 25per cent of the GDP, while 35 per cent of the population working outside the farm sectorbrings in 75 per cent of the GDP. This, according to the industries department, shows thata sizeable portion of the rural population has taken up agriculture because they havenothing else to do.Whether all the aspects of a farmer’s life that are affected by the forcible takeover of hisland have been taken into account. And if the state government has the vision to look
  • beyond the immediately economic, it will realise that agriculture has many functions in afarming community. West Bengal is not the first state government to ignore thismultifunctionality — to use a term the French used in the WTO. But as one that hasrelied on the rural population to keep it in power for decades it may well have the most tolose. The Left may not share the instinctive distrust many others have for forcibletakeover of land.Decline in the share of agriculture to the GDP, nearly 58% of Indias population is stilldependant on agriculture for livelihood. More than half of this percentage (nearly 63%),however, owns smallholdings of less than 1 hectare while the large parcels of 10 hectaresof land or more are in the hands of less than 2%. The absolute landless and the nearlandless (those owning up to .2 ha of land) account for as much as 43% of the totalpeasant households.Accomplished rabble-rousers, as many in politics including in the Left Front are, ought toknow that a party having 10 per cent of seats in the Assembly will not necessarily evokea 10 per cent response to a bandh call; the former is a reflection of free will, the latter is areaction to fear.The problem with the CPI-M is that it has never sought to engage political opponents andcivil society in discussions on the way forward for the state. Mr. BuddhadebBhattacharjee may well be a focused individual, but he bristles at even well intentionedcriticism. The CPI-M believes that because it won so many seats in the last election,people will accept everything it does and that no one has the right to criticize it. Mr.Bhattacharjee compounds his problems by dubbing all critics as reactionaries andenemies of the people. He is surrounded by sycophants, who privately and in print tellhim what a great job he is doing, and then quietly ask him for parcels of land atthrowaway prices.Bengal needs sage minds to resolve the many issues that are linked to Singur; to attemptto wish them away with a lament that Bengalis have a death wish when it comes tomatters linked with industrial progress, as at least one apologist for the establishment hasdone, is farcical.It is not perhaps too late yet for Singur, or indeed to address questions relating to land-usein a mature, sensible fashion. This issue is not about individuals ~ not even bull-headedones like Mr. Bhattacharjee and Miss Banerjee. It is about prescriptions for growth andprogress that must be palatable to the people of the state.PS. Also notice the irony that it is illegal in India to sell agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, another example of how the state dictates what citizens can do withtheir property. (This is one reason, in fact, why 60% of our population remains dependenton agriculture.) So while the farmer cant sell his own land to someone who wants tobuild a factory, the government can take it away from him and give it to someone for thatpurpose. Makes any sense to you?
  • All this but still the issue is not buzzing in the ears of our parliamentarians, perhaps theyare deafened by the loud noises of cricket stadium.Why Tatas are up to SingurReasons that why Tatas are up to Singur can be cited as – Lower cost of land than offered by Orissa and Himachal Pradesh. Proximity to Kolkata Adjacent to expressway in terms of connectivity and communicability But there are several reasons why Tatas should not take up the project in Singur – More skilled labour available in other states, which are in race History of labour unrest in West Bengal Higher percentage of wasteland available in states like Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh Taking up the project in Singur may dent the public image of Tatas Violating right to propertySeries of Events at Singur12.05.06 – TATA Motors select West Bengal for carproject.02.12.06 – Beginning of acquisition of land, farmers clashwith police, Medha arrested31.12.06 – Deadline for the acquisition of land, failingwhich Tatas may withdraw their offer24.09.06 – Police baton charge on farmers, women andTrinamool Congress leaders at Singur, about 45 km fromhere, and the forcible removal of and assault on party chiefMamata Banerjee and her companions19.12.06 – Medha Patkar slips into Singur, meets slaingirls family18.12.06 – Teenager raped and burnt alive for daring toprotest against forcible land acquisition30.11.06 – Left Front Government clamped Section 144 on the entire Singur block andall roads leading to Singur. It thus weakened the freedom of people to protest and at thesame time prevented the entry of any outside help for the people there. In this ghettoisedsituation it began the process of fencing land.
  • 04.12.06 – Moists smash Tata car showroom