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Mainstream, VOL L, No 29, July 7, 2012

West Bengal: The Singur Verdict and Village Voices

Tuesday 10 July 2012, by Arup Kumar Sen

One of the few bold steps that the Mamata Banerjeeled government took after coming to power in West Bengal was to pass the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011. On September 28, 2011, after a challenge by Tata Motors, a single judge Bench of the Calcutta High Court upheld the Act to be constitutional. But, a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court declared the Act to be ‘unconstitutional and void’ on June 22, 2012. The reactions of the Singur villagers to the verdict vary, depending on their socio-economic and political back-grounds.
A small group of farmers smeared each other with abir and chanted, ‘lal salam (red salute to) Tata Motors’.1 Prabir Kumar Khamaru owned 1.5 bighas of land that was acquired for the Tata factory. He lost his job as a security guard in the factory when the Tata Motors relocated the Nano factory in 2008. “The Tatas will get the land back; there will be a factory here and jobs for us”, shouted Khamaru.2

A sense of despair is evident in the faces of Krishna Chandra Manna’s household in Singur’s Beraberi Purbapara village. Krishna Chandra’s family of 11 is among the 100 odd families of ‘unwilling’ farmers whose financial standing is relatively better. His 12-bigha land is part of the 400 acres that the government acquired from the unwilling farmers. The 75-year old, Krishna Chandra, laments: “I wish I had not refused the compensation then. Now it seems almost impossible to get back my land and I don’t think there’ll be any compensation.” It may be mentioned in this connection that Krishna Chandra’s two-storied house was built mostly with the earnings from his land. He said that before the land was acquired, he used to earn Rs 80,000-100,000 a year on an average by selling crops. The produce also sustained his family. Now, he is left with only three bighas of land. The Mannas used to grow paddy, jute, potato, brinjal, cauliflower, carrot, chili, cabbage and other vegetables throughout the year on their land. Similar is the story of 61-year old Joydeb Manna of the village whose 12-member family is dependent on agriculture. Eight of the family’s 12 bighas were acquired for the Tata project.3
Despair and anger was noticed among the underprivileged villagers in Singur after the announcement of the verdict. The villagers from Beraberi Purbapara, Khaserbheri, Ghoshpara and Bajemelia poured on to the streets with gloomy faces. Most of them expressed their frustrations to the visiting reporters. Paromita Das and her husband, who lost four bighas to the Nano factory and was beaten up by the police in 2006 for resisting the land acquisition, returned to Ghoshpara on the day of the verdict hoping that Mamata’s pre-poll promise would come true. “All our hopes have been dashed,” said Paromita. Now, she works as a house-maid in Kolkata while her husband has taken to masonry to support their family. Shyamoli Das was an ardent supporter of Mamata Banerjee and actively campaigned for her. Her husband received severe injuries during the protest over land acquisition in 2006. Now, her husband is earning livelihood as a mason and her only son has stopped going to school and started working as a carpenter. Yet, they are not sure how to manage monthly household expenses. She wonders why the present government is relying on the court verdict and is not acquiring the land by force. To put it in her own language: “This is injustice. If the government cannot acquire land by force, we will acquire it by force. If the government resists, we will fight against them. From now on, I will concentrate on organizing the masses to fight the battle.”4

In a bid to address the dissent among the unwilling farmers Mamata Banerjee held a close-door meeting with the organisations associated with the anti-acquisition movement immediately after the Calcutta High Court verdict. While the State Government is looking to fight out the Singur verdict in the Supreme Court, the Trinamul Congress may take the battle to the streets with the other organisations. Time will tell as to how Mamata Banerjee combines the legal options with street battles to address the grievances of the ‘political society’ who voted her to power.

1. The Satesman, June 23, 2012.
2. The Hindu, June 23, 2012.
3. The Telegraph, June 23, 2012.
4. Hindustan Times, June 23, 2012.
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