Red Battlefields of Bengal!

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Posted: 12 years ago

West Bengal's dream of industrialization has turned into a nightmare and also misfired big time with the State Government coming under severe fire from all quarters for letting loose a reign of terror in villages where it seeks to obtain land from the villagers and poor people, by hook or by crook.

 

This follows the introduction of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act 2006 in India under which State Governments can acquire lands from the people and hand over such large plots of land to big industrialists to set up industrial zones in areas, specifically dedicated to particular item or items. This of course can happen only after fulfilling a whole lot of other provisions under the Act, which again clearly stresses on the issue that 'arable farm lands may not be used' for such purposes.

 

But the West Bengal Government has started their SEZ phase with some good ideas but with extremely poor executions. For instance, a few months back, it decided to hand over a huge volume of land in one of the State's most arable village called Singur, where multiple cropping system is usually followed. In fact, Singur truly represents what we mean by 'Sonar Bangla' or Golden Bengal, in the correct sense of the term, and is the major vegetable producing region in the State, mainly potatoes (it accounts for more than 70 % of the total potato production in the State). And why all these? So because Tata Motors can set up their Rs. 1 lakh- small car project/ industry over here. It's true that industrialization is the need of the hour but a car plant on an arable piece of land? And believe me, when I say it's not about a few acres we are talking about, but thousands of acres of such land.

 

Quite naturally, the people in Singur protested but the Government went ahead with its proposed plant and violence broke out in that region between the locales, the Opposition Party and the Government cadres and Police and who not (don't ask me). With the result that some were killed while many were injured and several people fled home. However, the land acquisition programme went ahead and today the Tatas are busy erecting the boundary wall in their SEZ area, employing around 10,000 casual labourers. Mind you, the land is nearly made available free of cost to Tata Motors, as well as other additional incentives have been provided like cheap electricity, water supply, cess and stuff (why cant Tata pay the real price?), all because they would be investing in the State and ushering in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) too in the long run.

 

The Government had then set its eyes firmly on another village – Nandigram in the Medinipore District where the Salim Group of Indonesia is planning to set up their own manufacturing hub, as well as a chemicals hub. As usual, the people are resisting this idea of forced acquisition of land and had kept control of the village, along with several surrounding villages, so as not to let the Government officials enter the village and re-assess their sites/ plots of land, by putting up blocks on roads and lanes.

 

After nearly 3 months or so, the Government yesterday sent forces (along with you all know who) to take control of the villages and what ensued after that is the worst of its kind that has ever happened in Bengal. There was open firing by the police on the village people who had gathered on the major entry points to prevent the police and the CPIM party workers from entering the villages and now officially as many as 20 are dead, many are missing, most of whom will never be found ever again. The major attention had been gathered by the womenfolk in these villages and it is feared that many have been killed and then thrown in the ditches and covered with mud and sand, or plain pushed into the nearby water bodies. Even children have not been spared. The worst scenario is that many of these bodies have been thrown in the Haldi River, flowing between Haldia and Nandigram, one of the many tributaries of the River Ganges, and it is only about 100 kms from the confluence with the Bay of Bengal. So anything or anyone falling in that River will surely never be found, ever again.

 

There were 3 main villages surrounding Nandigram which were till date offering resistance to the ruling party in forcibly acquiring land from the farmers. Yesterday, two of these villages have been "captured" and the worst fear of the people came true when today morning, they witnessed every house in these villages bearing the red flag, adorned with a sickle and sheaves of paddy, on their roof. The 'capture' by the ruling party is done with the roads stained red with blood.

 

The third remaining village – Gad Chakraberia – which till date was defiant, is now shivering with impending doom with people awaiting the police and party cadres to swoop on the village and start firing, thus 'completing the capture process'.

 

The entire State is shivering with rage and indignation with widespread protests from all quarters. The lawyers from the High Court in Kolkata have reacted strongly with all its members protesting in front of the Legislative Assembly and the Governor's Residence, calling for enforcement of the 'breakdown of the constitutional machinery of the State' provision. The Governor, Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi, is himself horrified with the happenings and has stated in clear terms that no provocation is big enough for the police to mow down so many innocent people, including women and children, so ruthlessly.

 

The Opposition Parties have closed ranks and a full-day bandh will be witnessed in the State tomorrow. The High Court has ordered a CBI enquiry the Academy Artist Group, the intelligentsia, have reacted by stepping down from various Government posts.

 

The strangest thing is that from the noon onwards, every now and then, all TV channels have been taken off the air, as they were showing the atrocities committed on the common people. Democracy indeed!

 

It's true that any State can progress only when industrialization follows agricultural revolution in the State, with the aim of becoming self-sufficient. But the basic question that now arises is at what price? Why should agriculture pay for the pangs of industrialization? Why is there no suitable land acquisition policy in the State? And why is there no ground map for the entire procedure?

 

Well these are questions that the Government may itself be short of answering.

 

But these atrocities need to stop NOW!

Edited by sangitadas - 12 years ago
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Posted: 12 years ago

Did you write this article?? I ask this because it's very well written and although a li'l long was worth reading.ClapClap

In the 1970's during the last phase of Congress' rule and the beginning of CPM's rule industrialisation in Bengal came to a sudden halt. Not only that due to various policies of the CPM's, supporting militant worker unions in industries many major corporate houses left Bengal and factories were closed. This trend of terrorising the industrialists and appeasing the labourers and small farmers continued throughout the CPM's reign until Buddhadeb stepped in.

If the process of industrialisation had not been stopped at all then all these drastic measures taken today would not have been necessary. In a way the small farmers and union workers are now paying for all the undue advantages they enjoyed then and the person responsible for all that was ex-CM Jyoti Basu. So, if these people are made to pay then Jyoti Basu the main culprit should also be prosecuted for all the losses that Bengal had to suffer in terms of opportunity, capital, productivity, jobs and much more.

The State Govt. has now made a volte face and adopted a policy of appeasing the industrialists. Though that was necessary to attract industrialists to Bengal again and to change their perception about the state but the distressing factor is the length which the State Govt. is willing to go to appease them.

There are so much land in districts like Bankura, Midnapore and Purulia which are not very profitable in terms of farming and could have been efficiently used for setting up industries. Infact the people of that region would have been thankful if some industries were developed there and they were provided with some option out of their farming life. The Tatas and Salims of course want land in the already developed area of Hooghly and the Haldia regions but just because they want it should the Govt. give it to them.

It's the Govt's responsibility to develop other regions by building infrastructure in terms of roads, basic townships, making them equally attractive. In other words the State Govt. needed to do some homework which they conveniently skipped and went straight ahead to sell the already developed regions even if it harmed the interest of the common people of that region.

A spread out development of Bengal would be much better than concentrating all the developmental activities in Kolkata, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and Hooghly. This is not to say these areas don't require anymore development. They do but it would be much better if it's done in terms of setting up of Universities and educational institutions, corporate parks and such things which won't take up that much land, won't increase the already high level of pollution and of course provide expertise and jobs for people from all over the state. Moreover, corporate offices generate more in terms of revenue than manufacturing units.

I've been ranting too long, let me finish it quickly now. I don't support appeasing the farmers but neither do I support appeasement of industrialists. Land has to be acquired since it's a limited resource but the way the current State Govt. is doing it, I find it fundamentally flawed.

Edited by souro - 12 years ago
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Posted: 12 years ago
Thanks Soura for your views and its very appreciated.

First things first, I did write this.

Yes, I agree with you - there is no need to appease any group and all groups should be made to co-exist together. Definitely, appeasing agriculture once and then industrialisation later, with no fixed Plans at any stage, will not lead to any sort of all-round development in bengal, since there will always be one group of people who will be compromised. Why cant there be an all-round development instead of adopting piece-meal measures?

My take is not on the process or the need for industrialisation, but on the method used to pursue this goal, which I feel is even technically deficient as it is in the present phase.

You have rightly mentioned that there is so much land in the other districts of the State, say in Purulia, Bankura etc. what the Government has not done is a full-length study of the situation. They could have opted for creating a land bank at least, details of which could ahve been provided to the interested investors, who may have made their choices out of these available land plots.

Another thing that we need to remember is that SEZ development involves huge volumes of land, running into thousands of crores as against the simple process of setting up an industrial unit somewhere, that may involve using only a few scores of acres.

Food security of the State will surely be jeopardised in the long run, if the Government extends its hand towards the arable lands in the first phase of industrialisation itself.

Just my 2 cents!Edited by sangitadas - 12 years ago
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Posted: 12 years ago
Originally posted by Rohit.Khanna


Hi Sangitadi,

Its very depressing to see all this happening within our own cities.

I was not aware of the details of the situation but after reading this beautiful post I have come to the conclusion that the Government is killing people for its own development. That is a crime and the Government is bending its own rules to get what it wants.

Just wanted to let that out.

Rohit


Rohit, there are both sides to the situation but the Government is not trying to diffuse the tension at all.

Did you see that the "Honorable" Subhas Chakraborti has commented that the State Governor had no right to say anythign against the situation?
Did I hear right?
Someone please tell him that its the Governor who will be submitting the Report to the country's President on the law and order situation in Bengal.

These leaders surely are myopic!
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Posted: 12 years ago
Great input Sangita and souro.

Sangita, what a heartfelt beautifully written post indeed!   Big smile Thanks for sharing the content and views..
mqt
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Posted: 12 years ago

Originally posted by sangitadas




Food security of the State will surely be jeopardised in the long run, if the Government extends its hand towards the arable lands in the first phase of industrialisation itself.

I completely agree with this. There are many people who now think that one Singur doesn't make a difference to our food production. But once SEZs starts coming in they will require thousand such Singurs to develop and then the real problem will arise.

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