Headline Singur

Report by Amitadyuti Kumar (28 December 2006)

It was the 3rd week of May, 2006 – the 18th day to be
exact. The Left Front
Government was sworn in for the 7th time in a row.
Almost immediately Singur, an otherwise non-descript
rural area in the Hooghly District, suddenly made the
headlines. On that afternoon, the Chief Minister Mr.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharyee, sitting alongside Mr Ratan
Tata, the chief of a dominant Indian capitalist group
– the TATA’s, announced in a press conference that
Tata Motors had made an agreement with the state
government to set up a factory for small cars at
Singur. In the press conference  it was
also made public that the state government would hand
over 1000 acres of land in Singur. It cleverly
remained silent on whether any Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) had been signed.

Towards the evening the news spread in Singur and so
did the people’s anger.
The next day marked the beginning of public outrage.
It did not wait for any organizational strength,
political leadership. The fear of unemployment
and starvation was so palpable that it broke all the
barriers of age, gender and what’s more their
political identities. It is not the first time that
farmers’ land is taken away. Haldia, Bakreshwar or
Rajarhat have their own sordid tales of how the
government had given away their land to the
industrialists or promoters, all in the name of
development and industrialization. There were
resentments and protests in those areas too.

But the administration strengthened by the muscle
-urbanisation and
the eventual eviction and destruction of farmland.

It gave rise to more serious questions about the
efficacy of development projects that keep 96% of the
population of the area outside its ambit.

The intelligentsia, economists politicians and
sociologists came  forward to find solutions of such
riddles and have tried to deal with the issues. Their
overwhelming opinions supported by facts and figures,
expert opinions, and past experiences in home and
abroad conclusively point to the fact that the
government is erring.

Questions are raised whether such projects are
necessary to solve its basic problem of industrial
stagnation and unemployment?  If that be so, then by
whom, when and on what basis has this approach been
decided upon? Questions were also raised about
how to select the land necessary for ndustrialization,
about the long term as well as immediate effects on
environment as a result of conversion of
farmland to industrial plot, whether alternative sites
can be found without disturbing agricultural land and
so on. Comparisons are made to find out whether there
will be any real employment generation if industries
are set up on agricultural land. People became
concerned about the future of those who are going to
loss the roofs over their heads and their daily bread,
whether justice is being meted out to them or not. The
imminent uncertainty in the availability of food and
the likely food crisis resulting from wanton
destruction of farmland are also making people
concerned.

Singur

\’Singur\’ is a name new to the present day political
“,1] ); //–>power of the ruling party CPI (M) chose to ignore the
popular sentiment. While struggling for their right to
life and a dignified livelihood Singur people has
brought to the fore certain basic and important issues
regarding development-industralsation-urbanisation and
the eventual eviction and destruction of farmland.

It gave rise to more serious questions about the
efficacy of development projects that keep 96% of the
population of the area outside its ambit.

The intelligentsia, economists politicians and
sociologists came  forward to find solutions of such
riddles and have tried to deal with the issues. Their
overwhelming opinions supported by facts and figures,
expert opinions, and past experiences in home and
abroad conclusively point to the fact that the
government is erring.

Questions are raised whether such projects are
necessary to solve its basic problem of industrial
stagnation and unemployment?  If that be so, then by
whom, when and on what basis has this approach been
decided upon? Questions were also raised about
how to select the land necessary for ndustrialization,
about the long term as well as immediate effects on
environment as a result of conversion of
farmland to industrial plot, whether alternative sites
can be found without disturbing agricultural land and
so on. Comparisons are made to find out whether there
will be any real employment generation if industries
are set up on agricultural land. People became
concerned about the future of those who are going to
loss the roofs over their heads and their daily bread,
whether justice is being meted out to them or not. The
imminent uncertainty in the availability of food and
the likely food crisis resulting from wanton
destruction of farmland are also making people
concerned.

Singur

‘Singur’ is a name new to the present day political
workers. A few decades ago, the area remained mostly
inundated during rainy season by the two overflowing
rivulets, the Kanakunti, the Zulkia, and the discharge
from DVC dams. The last 24 years have seen the
execution of only half of the planned Ghia-Kunti
Drainage Scheme under the Lower Damodar Basin project.
This alone has substantially reduced the fury of
flood. Three major national highways run through or
by Singur area. Bowbazar and Sheoraphuli Hat, the two
of the biggest  wholesale South Bengal markets for
fruits and vegetables are in the range of 8/10
kms.

The famous Ratanpur potato market is in Singur. One of
the biggest Multipurpose Cold storages of the state,
meant for storing vegetables as well as potato is
situated in the area. As the fury of flood has been
tamed to a certain extent, the farmers  have
been making a modest earning thanks to the harmonious
blend of fertile loamy soil and labour. Besides paddy
and jute, potato and vegetables are the  main
cash crops here. Even the young graduates or the
masters of these poor and the middle class families
have engaged themselves in farming once the prospect
of getting a JOB proves to be an illusion.

Because of improved farming techniques, application of
fertilizers and pesticides, Singur two-thirds of
Singur flood plain has by and large become a
multi-crop land.

According to the statistics provided in a state
government booklet the block uses a whopping 10, 001
metric tonnes of fertilisers and 3061.5
metric tonnes of insecticides and other plant
medicines every year. To cater the needs there are 303
agricultural inputs trading centers in the
Block, whose 83% (8830 Hectares out of 10,526 Hectares
agricultural land) is irrigated. The crop density of
the Block is 220%, a step higher than the
district average of  215%.

Why Singur?

This is the Singur that the  Government chose for
Tata’s small car project, About 27% of the five mouzas
(out of 16) of the Block has been finally selected
‘acquired’ and fenced off with a massive police action
for the purpose. The process of selection of the site
is quite unprecedented  and queer. From the statements
of the Chief Minister, only this much could be
ascertained that the Tatas opted for it and the
government accepted readily.

Even as late as on 26 December, the CM was reported
to have said that the government had no option but to
accept Tatas’ proposal. The Government’s
avowed policy is to consult with the affected and
local people on all programmes of development. The
74th Constitutional amendment also calls for
such consultations. There was not a semblance of a
consultation or a discussion. The people first learnt
from the media that the plots of  land
that has sustained them generations after generations,
despite odds of floods and draughts were going to be
taken away by the government.

These are the plots of land around which they have
weaved the dreams of their future taking it for
granted that these plots of land were going to be the
only means for the future sustenance of their children
who will not be able  to find a better living in the
scheme of development of the country. They could
not believe their ears, when they first heard it.

Not only the people going to be affected, even the
functionaries of the local government viz., BDO, the
head of the Panchayet and even the local CPI (M)
bosses were kept in dark too. But the laws of the
land, the declared state policy all say in unison that
all projects should be planned at the grass roots that
are at Panchayet level. One can not but wonders-what
are the compulsions that leave the government without
any option but to accept Tatas’ proposal?

Why Singur?

Avijit Mukherjee, the BDO of the block said-it is
Singur because the official records show this area is
marked as ‘single-cropped’, non-irrigated
or ‘barren’. These records were based on surveys
dating back to 1990. During the last 15 years, in the
proposed Tata Motors site, the peasants have got
installed 35 shallow pumps, 28 of which with their own
money. In addition, there are three deep-tube wells.
The two rivulets, the Zulkia and the Kunti – flowing
along the either sides provide a substantial
Irrigational facility. In the dry season these
rivulets and the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation’s
dams) release irrigate the fields. How can such land
be called single-cropped, barren or non-irrigated?

Even a lay man is aware that a single crop land in
this part of Bengal means that the land has no
Irrigational facility; only the rain dependant
cultivation is possible.

A blatant lie

The farmers made appeal before the government pointing
to the mischief in Government records; they took part
in demonstration against the DM to highlight the
incorrect records. It was expected that  the
government  would relent once the truth is known. But
the Chief Minister made his stand clear.

The Tata’s have asked for that particular land, and
that’s final. The Government, the Industry Minister,
the Land Minister only echoed their leader’s view.

The statistics cited earlier in this dispatch quoting
state government sources, the fact that the whole
Singur block has an average crop density of 220% and
the fact that the proposed Tata Motors site is most
well irrigated and the most fertile in the block and
scores of photographs and video clippings in the print
and electronic media showing the fields of the
area nails her lies. Here is a tale told by the Singur
BDO in presence of the local Panchayet boss Ranjt
Mandal recorded on 15 June–Singur is a
40 minutes’ drive from the airport along the newly
built Expressway via the new Vivekananda Setu under
construction. So the Tatas or their top brass
flying from other metros will have to waste little
time to reach their destination.

Whoever expected to hear such a far-fetched excuse and
that too from an avowedly pro-poor government and it
comes at the expense of a  15000-strong
agricultural work-force!

This control of the industrialists over the
government, this ‘as you said sir’ attitude of the
government is potentially dangerous for democracy
and democratic values. The question naturally
arose–is the government being run by the Tatas or for
that matter other industrialists and capitalists?

The government’s helpless and repeated admission that
it has no option but to accept Tatas’ proposal, and
the fact that the proposal of Tata Motors small
car project was not discussed, approved or  not even
heard of in any discussion regarding the government’s
industrial policy or any other forum or a
constitutional body before the fateful day of swearing
in of 7th LF government, hints at the danger and dark
days ahead for democracy.

Reagan regime in the US diverted Govt resources for
the benefit of the industrialists who were facing
serious challenges from Japan; Clinton’s rule
saw to it that the oil giants consolidate their hold
on the Government and state machinery. This hold in
turn drove US under Bush administration  to
invade and occupy Iraq or Afghanistan, violate the
civil and democratic rights of the US citizens or to
go against civilization, Noam Chomsky has
shown in ‘Propaganda and the Public Mind’.

Some facts and figures

The WB Land & Land Reforms Minister had gone on record
to say in the state assembly that about 120,000 acres
of farmland has become casualty in the
government’s ‘urbanization’ and industrialisation
programmes in the last five years. He declared further
that in the next 5 years, the government is going to
transfer another 1 lakh acre or more farmland to the
industrialists and promoters – for the sake of
industrialization and urbanization.

He did not conceal his concern for a resultant
food-crisis on the floor of the House. The state
agricultural minister was of the same view. But the
big brother CPM and the senior cabinet members ruled
out the possibility of any food crisis. The dissenting
ministers had to fall in line. They parroted the
rhetoric that Bengal is self-sufficient in food and
leads in agricultural production. So it’s the time to
use farmland for industry.

Whether West Bengal is Self-sufficient in Food
Production?

As per the latest figures available from the Bureau of
Applied Economics and Statistics of the West Bengal
Government, the availability of food grains
(considering both the domestic production and imports)
is 177 kg per head per year for the period year
2001-05. According to the Planning Commission
an adult requires an intake of 193 kg of food grains
for subsistence.

It is to be kept in mind that in those aforesaid
years, there was no significant loss of food grains
because of flood, draught or natural disaster.
Despite this, the state faces a shortage of food
grains @ 16 kg per head per year that is, approx 16
million tonnes (assuming the state population to be
around 10 cores). This crisis would worsen by a
further 10% if the next 5 years see shrinkage of
another 1 lakh acre of farmland. This will
totally upset the  somewhat self sufficiency achieved
in food grains and will totally jeopardize any
prospect to achieve food self sufficiency and hamper
food security of the people of lower income groups and
the poor. This will lengthen the lines of starvation
deaths-from Amlasole to Jalangi and elsewhere.

According to latest National Sample Survey data (NSS
Report No.471), 15% of the state’s population can
avail less than 70% of required daily calorie intake
(2700 Cal per day) and.64% of them gets less than
the required amount. In terms of daily intake West
Bengal lags behind six states including Bihar and
Orisa. According to a state government publication
(Advancement in Agriculture: History of
Success-Krishir Agragati-Dharabahik Saphalyer
Itibritta)  monthly per capita intake of food grains
in the
state fell to 13.27 Kg in 1993-94 (latest available
data) from 15.25 Kg in 1972-73.

According to the findings of the UN  Special
Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, who
presented his report on Extent of Chronic Hunger and
Malnutrition in India before the UN Human Rights
Council in Geneva on 22 September, 2006, food grain
availability in rural India has fall to 152 kg
per capita, 23 kg less than in the 1990s.  Ziegler’s
report was based on his visit to India from August 20
to September 2, 2005,”motivated by the fact that India
has the largest number of undernourished people in the
world and one of the highest levels of child
malnutrition”.  The report, which  reviews “the
situation of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity
in India” and whether the theory of “hunger amidst
plenty” stands, has made some startling revelations.

He observed that falling agricultural wages,
increasing
landlessness and rising food prices have severely
undermined the right to food. Over half of India’s
women and children are  suffering from severe
malnutrition and chronic undernourishment. Over 47
percent children are underweight and 46 percent
stunted in their growth figures higher than most
countries in poverty stricken sub-Saharan Africa.  The
poorest 30 percent of households eat less than 1700
kilocalories per day per person, well  below
the international minimum standard of 2100
kilocalories per day, even if they spend 70 percent of
their income on food.  (Times of India 24 September,
2006)

But this is what the masters of the world, the
imperialists long for. Food deficiency will
necessitate import and that is not so easy. The global

food market is controlled by a handful of
transnational food cartels. By virtue of the
prevailing system of ‘forward trading’ these cartels
are already the owners of the food grains that are to
be produced in the next few years. No doubt import
will depend on their sweet will and we  will have no
option but to agree to their terms and rates.

One may not be totally wrong to read that Tata’s motor
car at Singur is not a sudden, isolated and
ill-conceived decision, rather a part of a larger
conspiracy of neocolonialism.

Is it not possible to build a factory at an
alternative non-agricultural site in WB?

The ministers, industrialists, and their political
parties keep on saying that industrialization is not
possible in this state without using agricultural
land. Without industrialization, development will just
be a distant dream. So destruction of farmland is a
must for W Bengal’s progress.

Do the facts say so? The latest edition (2004) of the
Statistical  Handbook of the Government of WB reveals
the following:

Total land area excluding Kolkata Metropolitan
District:

8687521 Hectares

Area not available for Cultivation
1636038 Hectares

Net Sown Area
5427672 Hectares

Current fallows
333372 Hectares

Other Uncultivable land excluding Current fallows
119146 Hectares

Forest Area
1171293 Hectares

Those who travel across the state know it well that
not only Bankura, Purulia, Midnapore, but the entire
North Bengal too is provided with thousands of acres
of barren and uncultivable land. As per the adopted
policy of the centre and what’s more, the view of the
five left parties expressed in their memorandum before
the Centre on 6 October 2006 is that no agricultural
land should be used for SEZs.

This apart,  West Bengal has the distinction of its
cities and urban areas being adorned by the rusting
dilapipated sheds of thousands of closed factories –
official figures alone put it at 65000.  40000 acres
of prime industrial land is kept locked there for
decades. The CPI (M) MP Santashri Chatterjee and the
President of the Hooghly District CITU submitted a
memorandum to the District Magistrate demanding use of
such premises for setting up of new industrial units.
The memorandum also mentioned that the Birlas were
given 744 acres at the Hind Motors at throw away
prices for setting up the Hindusthan Motors n 1948.
The factory, which once employed 22,000 workers, used
only 252 acres of the land given. The rest, about
500 acres was lying unused for the last 58 years. The
memorandum suggested that this land can be used for
industrialization. In an article in the CPI (M)
daily Ganashakti, he reiterated the same  demands. The
government replied late next month. The state cabinet
cleared the land for use by the Birlas for an IT park,
thus enriching the Birla coffers by at least 1500
crores in one stroke. If the premises of closed Beni
Engineering in Kolkata can be unlocked (though
illegally) for real estate business, why could the 500
acres of land, kept unused for the last 58 years, at
Hindmotors not be used for the purpose of a new
industry?

Trade (or State?) secret – a white lie?

Even seven months after the movement started or three
months after completion of ‘land acquisition’ process
as claimed by the administration, no body knows
whether the Tatas have paid the price for the land as
per rules or whether the land is being forcibly
‘acquired’ from the poor peasants at the tax-payers
expense to make a gift to the ‘Left-friend’ Tatas? The
Land Acquisition Act 1894 and the procedures lad down
to implement the  act requires that the requiring
authority (here the Tatas)must deposit the full cost
of the land before acquisition procedures begin.
After several enquires under RTI act 2005, in all the
concerned Government Departments as to whether the
Tatas have deposited any amount towards the
cost of the land, the West Bengal Industrial
Development Corporation, in its letter No
Adm/141/2006/3113, dated 4 Dec., 2006 replied that
‘disclosure of
information sought cannot be allowed under section
8(d) of the RTI Act 2005’. This section does not allow
disclosure if the competitive position of a third
party is harmed and unless it is necessary for greater
public interest.

All major aspects of the proposed project have been
kept under wraps. No body, even the cabinet ministers
and left front partners know whether a MOU
(Memorandum of Understanding) had been signed, or what
are the understandings or agreements  between the
Government and the Tatas.  Senior cabinet ministers
belonging to non CPI (M) parties publicly aired their
grievances for keeping them in the dark. All enquiries
in this regard also faced the same black stone wall of
secrecy. A similar formal exercise as above to illicit
information on whether any MOU was reached with the
company on the project and if so, a copy of the MOU,
if  no, a copy or the salient points of the draft of
such MOU being discussed  was carried out. The
only reply to these queries was that ‘disclosure of
information sought cannot be allowed under section
8(d) of the RTI Act 2005’.

A similar stonewall of secrecy is built around the
incentives offered to the Tatas. Newspaper reports
quoting ‘reliable sources’ suggest that the
monetary value of the incentives offered to the Tatas
for their Rs 1000 Crores investment may run up to 1500
Crores, if the cost of  land,
infrastructure and concessions are taken into account.
Perhaps it is needless to say again that the
governments reply to the queries on incentives  under
the West Bengal Incentive Scheme 2004 (No. 134
CI/O/Incentive/17/03/1 dated 24 March, 2004) or under
any other scheme/proposal claimed by the Tata Motors
for the project,  offered/agreed
to be offered by the government to the Tata Motors for
the project, proposals/claims for incentives under
consideration of the WBIDC or any other Government
agency, received the same reply citing section 8(d) of

the RTI Act 2005′.

It is strange that the Government is makng deals  with
a profit making concern at the cost of tax payers’
expense and nobody has the right to  know
anything. This attitude makes mockery of all
principles of transparency  and the Left Fronts
commitment to ‘do everything by informing people
beforehand and with their concurrence.’

Fighting Unemployment?

>From all available information including Tata Motors
press releases, it transpires that 800-odd employments
may be generated initially which may go
up to 2000 if and when the company attains the full
production capacity of 5,00,000 cars per year. Even
conservative estimates suggest that about 15000
people including sharecroppers, agricultural
labourers, and small farmers artisans are going to be
evicted from their profession. Among them are
those, who do not own the agricultural land or water
bodies but still make a living out of them, those who
earn their living as trolley pullers, collies,
fertilizer and other agricultural input dealers and
their employees etc. How creating employment for 2000
over the years by immediately ousting 15000
from their livelihood may help in fighting
unemployment is anybody’s guess.

The tale of ancillary industries was proved to
be a fairy-tale in case of Haldia. And 800
employments at the cost of 100 crores nvestments (plus

state incentives valued at around 1500 crores) That
means ten million crores investment (plus incentives
from state exchequer) for 80 lakh registered
unemployeds. It is beyond even any lunatics
imagination !

The state government has no rehabilitation policy. A
study shows that only 9% of those evicted during the
post 1950 period got some sort of relief,
however meager may it be. No body knows how the
evictees will be rehabilitated or compensated. The
government dubs the whole process as ‘trade secret’ to
seek a safe escape route. Or sometimes, pretends to
be a little bit more transparent -‘will be told in the
appropriate time.’ A common sense suggests that there
are other hidden agenda behind all these exercises
declaredly for the benefit of ‘ignorant idiotic
masses’. The spontaneous opposition to the
machinations and its rapid spread show
that the government has erred in assuming people’s
concurrence for granted. Meanwhile 200 people staging
a peaceful demonstration were wounded in the
police lathicharge 25 September. Rajkumar Bhul, a 24
year old agitator succumbed to the injures sustained
during the police attack. About a hundred
including 28 women were been arrested. Many were
molested by the drunken police force. The prosecution
admitted that barring some womenfolk who were
carrying brooms in their hands as symbols for their

“,1] ); D([“mb”,”


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“,0] ); D([“ce”]); //–>resolve to broom out the Tatas, none have any weapon
or any other thing. The seizure list mentioned
seizure of 10 brooms apart from their festoon. Yet the
hapless people were booked under sections of Explosive
Act and on charges of attempt to  murder
(under sec 307 IPC). This is in line with the state
government’s policy  of persecution of all opposition
and to ensure  that these poor people rot behind the
bars or harassed by the police or in the courts before
they could be proved innocent. Thus the government
will get the precious requisite time to hand over
their land to the Tatas.

Amitadyuti Kumar


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