Land Struggles

Singur: Peasants’ résistance rises while CPM resorts to lies and double speak to defend Tatas

People’s anger has re-ignited the fight back in Singur against forcible land acquisition by CPM led Govt. It is also exposing the CPM’s double speak on a variety of issues related to acquisition by Govt. of agricultural land to hand over to corporates and MNCs. These clearly substantiate that revisionists go all out to serve the ruling classes.

Up till just after the CPM state secretariat meeting in W Bengal on 9th Feb 2007 Chief Minister Budhadeb Bhattacharya and CPM have maintained that over 90% peasantry in Singur has willingly handed over land to the Govt. Biman Bose was quoted in Ganashakti (daily paper in Bengali of CPM) on 8^th December 2006 “It is being reported that govt. has snatched the land of the peasants. The fact is more than 90% of the land owners have handed over their land to the govt. willingly.” Brinda Karat, PBM of CPM wrote a long centre page defense  on the same lines in the Hindu. When Tata was chased away from Singur by the local people (25^th May ’06), Nirupam Sen (Minster of Industries, WB Govt.) reportedly said to him, “Next time when you come, Singur people will greet you with flowers.” (Ganashakti, 31^st May ’06). This constantly reiterated lie of ‘willingly given’ was discarded for the first time on 9^th Feb 2007 when Buddhadeb conceded that ‘not all peasantry was willing’ and that ‘some peasants’ have not taken the compensation cheques (10^th Feb ’07, Hindustan Times Delhi). Definitely not being a Narodnik (as Prakash Karat has labeled all those supporting the peasant movements in Singur and Nandigram), Buddhadeb has totally failed to comprehend the message behind non taking of cheques and asked such peasants to ‘meet the DM’! In a subsequent speech at Nandigram he again repeated the ‘90% willing’ and said Singur handover to Tata’s was irrevocable.

Apart from the fact that the scale of repression in Singur showed the W. Bengal Govt.’s claim of over 90% willing handovers to be an abject lie, there are other indicators. On 7^th Dec. ’06, Ganashakti stated that compensation had been given to 9000 peasants and about 3000 peasants (i.e. About ¼ of those involved) were still to be given compensation. It was also known that of the total  compensation amount of 130 crore rupees only Rs. 80 crore had been disbursed (not encashed). However the WB Govt.’s position was that 3000 peasants who had not taken the cheques had also given consent and thus 959 acres have been acquired from willing peasantry.

As per the figures of the Krishi Jami Rakha committee, the total owners involved are 14,000 peasants. Affidavits of owners of 347 acres have been filed along with full details of their land (there are a total of 7000 owners of this land) before the courts distributed to the media and also submitted to the Lt. Governor during Mamata Banerjee’s hunger strike. The Chief Minister had simply dismissed these claims. Not only that, CPM resorted to many tricks to whip up figures. In many places, inherited land had in practice been subdivided among progeny siblings but the necessary changes not made in the land records (called ‘mutation’ process) due to the procedural hassles. This is true all over W. Bengal CPM cadre persuaded one sibling to accept the cheque and as a reward got the entire land written in his name in the land records. Thus they have whipped up discords within families esp. between brothers and between brothers and any married sister who lives in another area where the in-laws are receptive to CPM propaganda. Thus while around 50% peasants have not given their consent, 50% of the govt.’s figures are false. Mostly only absentee landlords and few rich peasants who anyway wanted to sell their land and rid themselves of sharecroppers have willingly given their land. Some land on which there is litigation, has been handed over to the Govt. willingly. But in Singur, as in W. Bengal, the majority of farmers are marginal and small
farmers for which this land is livelihood land and they are refusing to part with the same. Many middle and rich peasants are also doing so and are part of the movement. The farmers here, even the marginal farmers, are prospering due to the rich productivity of this land. The Krishi Jami Rakha Committee called for hoisting of black flags in December against forcible acquisition. Hundreds and hundreds of black flags were raised in the affected areas, giving lie to the CPM’s claims. This is despite the fact that the 1000 acres acquired (local people assert that the area actually fenced is 100 acres over 997 acres as the tense situation forbade land measurement) is in three anchals – while two are led by Trinamool, the third has a CPM representative.

Nature of the land acquired

Singur is actually the name of a block and a police station in Hoogly district of West Bengal. The land forcibly acquired for Tata is in five
‘mouzas’ – (1) Gopalnagar (2) Beraberi (3) Khaserbheri (4) Bajemelia and (5) Singherberi.

Hoogly and Burdwan districts have the most fertile land in W. Bengal and this area is no exception. There are two rivers on either side of Singur. This area was developed around 1972 at the time of Siddharth Shankar Ray. There are two deep tube wells, and 34 Mini deep tube wells (some of them private). The main crops in this area are potato, paddy (two varieties), jute, and many types of vegetables. Potato is the main cash crop and the vast amount of potatoes grown here is proved by the number of cold storages. There are five cold storages here – no other district in W. Bengal has so many and one is of a massive size. One of the cold storages is only for vegetables. Peasants are known to give their lands on lease for just three months and earn a profit out of the transaction; those taking it on lease are likely to be landless of the area itself.

CPM’s propaganda is that of these 997 acres of land, 910.61 acres is single crop land, 39.08 grows more than one crop and the remaining is non agricultural land (Ganashakti, 7^th Dec ’06) i.e. 90% is single crop land and around 3% has more than one crop. Prakash Karat has proudly cited the figures of 9 lakhs for single crop land (actually : Rs. 6 lakh per acre +143% solarium + 10% incentive) and 12 lakh  for two crop land to assert that CPM was giving ‘more compensation than any other state to farmers whose lands are being acquired. The registered sharecroppers have been promised 25% of the value of the land. Thus the entire compensation package works out to Rs. 130 crores.

In reality the compensation amounts sound grand only because the land has been wrongly assessed – while trying to tempt the peasantry with money, the CPM like all ruling class parties, is actually cheating it. 60% of the land is four crop land, the rest is three crop and two crop land. Of the total land, 60 acres is waste land. Within the area acquired are situated three small industries, two functional and one being built. One of the owners, who owns 33 acres, has gone to court against the forcible acquisition of his factory.

Overall, almost 30,000 people will have their livelihood snatched due to this forcible land acquisition. Apart from the 14,000 owners there are 657 recorded and unrecorded sharecroppers – none have got compensation as yet. Over 800 local landless earn their daily living by working on this land, as do over 5000 migrant agricultural labour coming in daily from surrounding districts, esp. Bankura. Further, while the W. Bengal Industries Minister has been denying possibilities of job opportunities, the rest of CPM is singing paeans to the jobs Tata’s factory is going to generate.

While many organizations and intellectuals have questioned the need of 997 acres to build a car factory, whereas such industry is usually built in 180-200 acres, Tata has finally responded by saying that 700 acres will be used for this and the rest for ‘ancillary industries’. Ratan Tata, who spoke of setting up the Singur factory even if a gun is ‘pointed at my head’ has lately in an interview in first week of February 2007 stated he was caught in political infighting. In West Bengal, CM Buddhadeb has proudly announced that he has ‘reported’ the situation to Tata; evidently the CM does not shy away from acknowledging his master.

Singur is Burning

After a period of comparative overt silence following the severe repression in early December ’06, Singur has flared again from early
Feb ’06. For the past few months, CPM has consistently been denying any peasant fight back and alternately accusing Trinamool and Naxalites of fomenting trouble. On 1^st December ’06 CPM assembled 20,000 police and CPM cadre at Joy mollah area where at that time CPM still had some influence. This is separated from the affected area by a canal and some vacant land.

Thousands of peasants holding traditional  weapons assembled on the bank of the canal protesting the impending action. So the next day i.e.2^nd December ’06, the CPM led Govt. let loose the 20,000 police and its cadre against the affected areas. CPM cadre pointed out the homes of those who had withheld consent and police entered these to beat up and torture the residents after which forcible fencing was carried out. 14 km of fencing was created with poles and with netting and the people
of the area, peaceful by nature, contained their wrath and sorrow.

On the day Tapasi  Mullick was found murdered, the CPM cadre and police posted in the area ran away fearing for their safety. Though the fence was unguarded for many hours, the  brow beaten people did not turn against it. It was the sharp and successful struggle of the people of Nandigram the stories of Kalinganagar that inspired the people to make a bid to save their lands. The added provocation was provided by CPM Govt. which began erecting a ‘pucca’ wall – the people realized it was now or never.

Thus the current situation is marked by a fight back with local people repeatedly attacking the fencing since early February. The first night, the police detained 7 people – 4 villagers and three activists of mass organizations working in the area. The next day the people displayed alertness, they pulled back six people whom the police was attempting to arrest.

CPM’s rhetoric is thus backfiring on itself. Unable to face that the local people have been provoked by its policies to a fight back to save
their land, they are labeling Trinamool and Naxalites as responsible for ‘violence and are then unable to substantiate the charge. Violence has been done to the people by CPM, its cadres and police; people have only broken the netting and wooden poles (up to 70 poles burnt one night). While violence against Singur’s people was televised on 2^nd December, CPM held “The police was attacked in Singur. They were attacked with bombs and knives. Even after that the police was sufficiently restrained.” (Ganashakti, 3 Dec. ’06). CPM marked President IFTU Com. Paltu Sen, “ … the Naxalite outsiders assembled in front of a hermitage at Baraberi mouza. Standing there, the Naxalite leader Paltu Sen … started delivering provocative speech. After this police asked them to leave the place. But instead of that they attacked the police and started throwing bombs at the police” (Ganashakti, 3^rd Dec. 2006). After 4^th Feb ’07, Ganashakti and Anand Bazar Patrika pointed fingers at Paltu Sen as did Biman Bose. After 4^th Feb, CPM has sent in 300 cadres, working in two shifts to beat back the people. 700 cadres was announced, but the rest shied off.

Over the past seven months, CPM has been consistently denying any fight back by the peasantry. In the current round, the women are most militant. Police following villagers attacking the fencing find themselves facing rallies of women, over 400 strong, holding brooms and traditional weapons and blocking the path of the police. Women using big brooms “sweep away” policemen sitting in or outside the villages.
Earlier too girls like Tapasi (18 years old, 8^th class pass) are active in the movement.  Seeing the women’s involvement, CPM has
announced its women organization in W.B. will go to the areas to convince women about industrialization. It is in response to the mood of the people not only in Singur but in W. Bengal that all left front partners condemned police action on 2^nd Dec. ‘06 as ‘excessive’ and that they have refused to alter the land ceiling act of West Bengal.

CPI(ML)ND has been working among the villagers of Singur for the past seven months. We have consistently propagated that land will be forcibly acquired if not defended, and when land is gone, all is lost. In Aug ’06 CPI(ML)ND held a motorbike rally through the affected area with 50 bikes, spreading the word of struggle. 7 villages held public receptions to welcome the rally. On 22^nd Sept. we participated in a 10,000 strong mashal rally through the area under the banner of Jami Rakha Committee, which we joined a month after its formation. On 11^th Nov. Party held a mass meeting in the area for which wide propaganda was carried out – the turnout was remarkable. Our party leaders participated with the people at the dharna outside BDO office on 27^th Sept. ’06 Com. Sujan Chakravorty, State Committee member of the party was injured in the lathicharge, while DC leader Babloo was arrested.
Our party has held meetings in the area with CPI(ML) Kanu Sanyal and CPI(ML) Liberation and we have also participated in all the programmes of the Krishi Jami Rakha Committee. Seeing that our initial propaganda was wholly true, people believe our cadres and seek out their opinions.

Budhadeb Bhattacharya is continuing to dig his Govt.’s heels over Singur. CPM Minster Nirupam Sen stated (Anand Bazar Patrika, 7^th June ’06) “we are repeatedly trying to convince everybody that we will no longer commit the mistake of command economy. The choice of the investor is given top priority in market economy … let us take the case of Tata Motors. They had an agreement with us regarding West Mednipur. They had given their consent. But at the time of final settlement they said that it was a flagship project. Other area is required and that should be near Kolkata.”

Whatever be the considerations for selecting Singur it is clear that CPM considers the livelihood of over 30,000 people in Singur
discardable before Tata’s wishes. (with inputs from Com. Sujan Chakravorty and Com. PST’s article on the issue)