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Singur farmers: Why they oppose Tata plant
Gargi Gupta | December 09, 2006
M V Rao, director of industries, government of West Bengal, is a pleased man. The balmy winter sun beats down on him as he stands in a field in Singur on a Tuesday morning, overseeing an army of around 1,000 workers drawn from the villages nearby who are erecting fences around the land on which Tata Motors' much-vaunted Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) car project will come up.
"The work is almost complete. We have 95 per cent consent for the land," he says, while also taking innumerable calls on his phone. With Singur booming, both politically and economically, Rao is the man in the hot seat.
In stark contrast, a little distance down the dirt track, is Bajemelia village. Under a tree overlooking the fields, one spies a group of men standing despondently looking on at all the frenetic activity. Among them is Haradhan Majhi, who till the other day tilled nearly an acre of land inside what is now called the project land.
"Till recently," Majhi says, "it was my land. I cultivated three crops in it," he says, while staring at the distance, "There would be paddy, potato, jute, til. . ." he trails off. Did Majhi voluntarily give up his land?
"No, never," he says fiercely, adding, "I'll never agree to give away my land. It has been with us for generations. It has fed and clothed me and my family of 18 people." How will he support himself? Majhi's face clouds over: "I don't know. Starve, I suppose."
As Singur seethes, on the ground, on the streets of Kolkata, in the state assembly, and affects the national political scenario, it is difficult to make out which side has truth going for it. Is the government right or do the farmers, who allege large-scale irregularities and corruption, have a point?
Take a trip to Khaserbheri, Beraberi, Gopalnagar and Bajemelia, the four villages in the vicinity of the "project land" and there can be no doubt about the huge popular resistance to the land-acquisition. There's Joydeb Ghosh who wants to invest his compensation money in a business; there's Krishna Ghosh, who has purchased land further down the road in Kamarkundu. But individuals like these are few and far between.
"It is my land. Don't I even have a say?" Harisadhan Ghosh raises the moot question. Harisadan is part of the Krishijami Bachao Andolan (KBA), the forum spearheading the local resistance.
For the past two days Ghosh, who says he has lost nine bighas to the project, and four others have been on an indefinite hunger-strike. "I never gave consent. My field was five plots inside the fence, and since all the five gave their consent they took away my land too."
As we speak, a crowd gathers at the nat mandir in Gopalnagar's Ghoshpara area, the venue of the hunger-strike. Everyone is agitated and the presence of mediapersons seems to give voice to the ire.
"Check the signatures on the consent letters, most of them were forged," says one. "Farmers who hold as much as 300 bighas in the two Ghoshparas have not given consent. What is the government talking about?"
Other scathing comments follow: "I tilled all nine bighas; how could cheques be sent to my cousins? They never had anything to do with the land," says one farmer. Another voice is heard: "What's the use of giving statements to the press, they never write the truth."
The point to note is that no one is complaining about the compensation -- around Rs 8 lakh (Rs 800,000) per acre, with separate higher valuations for three-crop land, plots nearer the main road and fields that have tubewells sunk in them.
"Eight years ago, the Himadri Chemicals factory came up just across the road. Its promoters, who purchased the land without any help from the government, paid around Rs 30,000 an acre," Rao says, underlining the more-than-generous package the state government has come up with.
Besides, the government has also come up with a scheme to pay the share-croppers and is in the process of paying to the farm workers.
But it is not just about compensation, explains Prasenjit Das in Khaserbheri village. "What use is cash to me? Putting money in the bank and earning interest is not enough, especially looking at the rising inflation. With land, my asset remains intact and what I earn from selling my produce is a bonus." Das has another argument to press his case: "Even if the government promises to give me a job, it fails to secure my children's future."
The problem in Singur is essentially just that: the irresistible coming up against the immovable. While the government wants to develop industry in the state, farmers are worried about losing their land and procuring the next meal for themselves and their families.
The chief minister seems to be in no mood to relent and wants the Tata plant to come up in Singur alone. Not surprising then that Singur simmers.
People like Das are still committed to their cause of saving their land. "This is not the end. Even in Kalinganagar the government did something similar, but no company has been able to start work," he says.
While the West Bengal government gets ready to acquire close to 50,000 acres all over the state for a slew of SEZs, ports, roads and so on, it should be a good idea to look at this other side of the story.