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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 15, April 2, 2011

Retelling the Rajarhat Story

Friday 8 April 2011, by Arup Kumar Sen

The Land and Land Reforms Department of the Government of West Bengal first issued Section 4 (of the Land Acquisition Act 1894) in 1995 to acquire 21 moujas for the Left Front’s flagship project, the Rajarhat Satellite Township. Already, 2421 hectres of land have been acquired for the New Town project in Rajarhat and more that 1.6 lakh land-losers were awarded compen-sation. If we take into account the number of share-croppers, agricultural labourers and other people who derived their livelihood from agriculture in the region, the number of people who lost their livelihood would be several thousands more than the number of land-losers.

It is ironic that the State Housing Minister, Gautam Deb, characterised the Rajarhat model of land acquisition as a model of “peaceful development”. Actually, agricultural people of Rajarhat spontaneously protested against land acquisition from the very beginning through the Rajarhat Jami Banchao Committee and other organisations. But, no organised political party did support those movements at that time. The urban Bengali middle class did not bother about the dark side of the Rajarhat story. But, the burning of ‘Vedic Village’ in 2009 as an expression of popular anger changed the scenario. The hidden terror of land acquisition in Rajarhat came to limelight.

Tales of Violence

THE CPI-M tough men in the region gave leadership to the forced land acquisition. Chowkpachuria, a hamlet in Rajarhat, “would have been razed to the ground two years ago had the tables not turned for the ruling Left Front in Singur and Nandigram”. Let us listen to the voice of seventy-plus Rosul Sapui of Chowkpachuria: “This land is mine. All of New-Town is soaked in our blood and tears. We were paid only Rs 13,000 a cottah. Now Hidco is selling it for Rs 40 lakhs.”
The original Chowkpachuria mouja is reduced to a small village now. But, how did it happen? Abu Taleb Mollah tells his story:

When CPM goons took our land at gun-point, dumped mud on our harvest and levelled our homestead overnight, there was no one to help us.

Deben Mondal of the same village tells a different version of the same story: “They would come every day and threaten us. Finally, one night, CPM musclemen and police sprinkled pesticide on our crop. The nightmare ended only when all of the land was acquired.”

The tales of violence cited above from a particular mouja are not unique cases. The same sort of violence happened in other moujas as well. An estimate suggests that about 50 agriculturists were killed in the violence-prone process of land-acquisition in just two moujas—Thakdari and Mahisgoth.

The development of the Rajarhat Township also led to destruction of bio-diversity of the region. About 33 water bodies were filled for the construction of the township by violating norms. The Hidco did it without permission from the Fisheries Department. It should be mentioned here that the State Department of Environment had instructed the Housing Department through a letter dated November 10, 1999 that necessary clearance should be taken from the Fisheries Department for filling up of any water body exceeding five cottahs. The 33 water bodies that were filled by the Hidco without permission from the Fisheries Department ranged from 6.05 cottahs to 114.95 cottahs. To put it in the words of the Director of State Fisheries Department, Madhumita Mukherjee:

When I joined the Department as Deputy Director, I started a survey in Rajarhat area. The area had a very unique ecosystem with 53 species of fish that bred there naturally. I had prepared the project report and Hidco was not given the permission to fill even one waterbody there.

The construction of the Rajarhat Township is a classic example of ‘developmental terrorism’ and politics of violence. The popular movements in Singur and Nandigram amply testify that the rural subalterns in West Bengal did not accept this neo-liberal paradigm of governance pursued by the Left Front Government.

SOURCES

1. Pranab De, Rajarhat: Sarkar Jokhan Luthera, Nagarik Mancha, Kolkata, January 2011

2. Ajanta Chakraborty and Suman Chakraborty, “Landless but not Powerless”, The Times of India, Kolkata, March 12, 2011.

3. Soma Basu, “Hidco accused of illegally filling 33 water bodies”, The Statesman, March 14, 2011.

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