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Volume XLIV, No.48

Three Articles on Singur

by Mahasweta Devi

Tuesday 24 April 2007


I pledged to visit Singur on 27.10.2006. I am 81, going to be 82 on 14.01.2007. I thought I would not be able to make it. I had a premonition that I would fall seriously ill. But nothing happened. On my way back I was feeling younger. I am still feeling so. I keep well when I have the opportunity to move around with the people who work for their living in fields and pastures. It is a fact. I hope I would have the opportunity to move among them again and again.

Medha (Patkar) came. It was a great boon. Neither Medha nor I went there on any political party’s invitation. People of Singur took us there. I shall repeat here what I said in the evening of 27.10.2006. By this agitation the peasants of Singur pointedly showed us the need for protest movements against the anti-people policies of the State Government. If the State, in their utter insolence, with the help of their armed constabulary, continues to pursue their anti-people programmes, people would have no option but to rise and oppose. They will protest. Could the State Government anticipate what has been happening in Singur? I am getting confused by the term “State Government”. Is it a coalition of a number of Left parties belonging to a Front or a government run by the CPI-M? I am old. I am ignorant. I get befuddled by these terms. That day while standing on the podium I spoke so many things, some of which were because of my intense feelings and some of which were out of my own ignorance. Let it rest there. But I stick to my main point. People of Singur are protesting because their life and living is being threatened. Twentyone-year-old Raj Kumar lost his life. Twentytwo ladies along with a girl child of two-and-a-half years were kept in jail custody for three days. Are these all false news? Are these all got up? I thought that such savagery and torture were meant for the Kheria Sabars of Purulia and the Lodha Sabars of Midnapore. Now I know it can happen anywhere under this government. Yes, it is capable of repeating these beastly and brutish acts.

I am hearing so many things about Singur. I can say I am hearing but I can’t say I know. I hear all glorius comments about our State Government. I don’t hear that about the Orissa Government. There the government acquired the lands of tribals and asked the Tatas to evict them at Kalinganagar.

But we are certainly different. We are not at all ashamed to desecrate Santiniketan or even Rabindranath’s name by erecting ugly structures and destroying the sylvan landscape there. Who are these peasant cultivators of Singur compared to the Ashramiks of Santiniketan?
I heard that the CPI-M allowed brick kilns to be set up on agricultural land at Haroa. Of course, these were given to their own kin. Peasants opposed it strongly. Brick kiln owners had to retreat. It was a defeat for the CPI-M.

In Singur unrecorded sharecroppers would not get anything because in the eyes of the law they do not exist. They are quite large in number. The number of recorded sharecroppers is not so high. The State Government profusely used the words “peasant” and “tebhaga” to make enormous political gain. They feathered their own nest nicely through power, influence and pelf. But the term “land reform” lost its meaning and lustre. Some sharecroppers got some benefit, but what about the others? Just go round on foot and find out yourself. My field of activity is supposed to be only among the tribals. Moneys for tribal development are not being spent by the all-mighty Panchayats. Gram Sansad and Gram Sabhas are expected to meet in May and November every year. Did they meet in Singur? Did they discuss the government’s proposal to acquire multicropped golden land to hand over to the Tatas? Many such questions are coming to my mind. Voluntary sale deeds smack of suspicious foul play. I understand some such deeds are being fabricated somewhere. I want to know: where and by whom?

The State Government might have earned some kudos from the Government of India and other outside agencies. But their image of the last thirty years is getting tarnished irretrievably over the Singur issue. That’s why there should be allround protest and agitation. Men and women of all walks of life should come forward and stand by the suffering people of Singur. I stop here today. As I would know more, I would let you know.

I stand by Singur! I will not move! n
Singur, Thanks Again

On 2.11.2006, I wrote “Singur, Thanks”. I once thanked the fighters of social reforms of the decade of the seventies. I applauded revolutionary Birsa Munda. I appreciated the rebels of 1857-58 against the British rulers. In my different writings I thanked them again and again. We were told that it was duty of a writer to acknowledge with appreciation all protest movements. That was our training. We were nurtured by that ideology. I said I shall be with you. I am writing today standing by you.

I applaud Singur again and again. I could not have written today had I not written yesterday appreciating Singur. A concerted false propaganda is being made suggesting that people are voluntarily selling their land to the government to be given over to the Tatas. I am today recording the truth about the Singur episode.

The Act of 1894 clearly indicates how the land could be acquired. The first portion relates to acquisition for public purpose by the government like for making roads, hospitals, railways etc. I am not discussing the procedure laid out for this purpose. I recall I attended a seminar in Delhi about it where Sundarlal Bahuguna, Medha Patkar and I were present. There was an angry debate about acquisition of tribal land. We three strongly opposed the move.
Let’s revert to Singur. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 provides for a separate procedure for acquisition land for a company. Land in Singur is being acquired for the Tatas to enable them to set up a car factory. This knowledge is in the public domain. But why has the government in indecent haste started giving compensation money from out of the public fund? This is an illegal, yes an illegal act. Because they have deliberately violated the legal procedure for acquiring land for a private company. The law is quite clear. It says that the company has to deposit upfront the estimated compensation money with the Collector of the District. The company would also have to enter into an MoU with the Collector indicating in what manner it is proposed to utilise the land to be acquired for it. No such MoU has been signed between the Tatas and the Collector of Hooghly.

The State Government is giving land to the Tatas illegally and unethically. The Tatas have informed the government that they would pay Rs 20 crores five years after they received the land, as compensation money. And they had the audacity to state that they would pay interest at the rate of 0.01 per cent per year. One can’t help admiring their sense of humour. The discounted value of Rs 20 crores to be paid five years later is around Rs 11-12 crores now. That means by paying Rs 12 crores they would grab lands worth Rs 100 crores. Knowing fully the implication of their activities, the State Government is giving away the golden multicrop land thereby extinguishing the livelihood of innumerable families. There is hardly any parallel of this barbarous and savage action by a government which in jest calls itself “Left Front”. This is a lawless act of a “democratic” government. I am forced to drew attention to Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988. It clearly states that whoever using official power arranges to give undue pecuniary advantage to another person commits the offence of criminal misconduct. I accuse everyone in the State Government from its top to the bottom associated with this illegal action as criminal offenders.

Singur! I am with you! n
After Singur....

I saw in the Dainik Statesman that after Singur, the CPI-M has started the process of coercive acquisition of land in secrecy in Haldia, Nandigram and other places. Reading the news I first felt that the land was being taken over for some industry. Of course, lands in these areas are not as fertile as in Singur. But that did not mean that they would fall under the Minister’s oft-quoted classification of “unfit for cultivation”. Peasants here would also remonstrate keeping in mind what happened at Singur. It would not mean that the administration would be intimidated. It would have been fine if they were cowed down. To all those who are fighting for Singur and their friends I would request them to bear in mind that (a) please be fully aware of your legal rights; (b) try to understand when and in what circumstances transgression of these rights by individuals/institutions/organisations would constitute offence and, lastly, (c) find out where would you seek justice if such offences were committed.

In Singur or in Haldia-Nandigram or anywhere else if any project were to be launched we must obtain from the government and the proposed land allottees whether the primary conditions of the relevant laws have been fulfilled or adhered to. For example, have the industrialists, who are wanting land in East Midnapur, informed the District Magistrate what type of industries they are proposing to put up and exactly how much land they will require for each unit? Have they deposited the estimated amount of compensation money with the District Magistrate? Have they entered into any MoU with the District Magistrate giving all the relevant details.
These are the minimum requirements of law and the Left Front Government wantonly violated them all. In this State the game-keepers themselves have become poachers. What to do?

During the Public Hearing on 27.10.2006 (at Singur) and later on at the meeting in the same evening Medha (Patkar) explained these statutory provisions. Let me talk of some other rights which Medha also mentioned on that day. These rights are constitutionally mandated. Medha referred to them on that day. The State Government willfully disobeyed them. Securing livelihood to men and women by the State is a constitutional directive. This is clearly stated in Article 39(a). It is laid down:

The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing—(a) that citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.

Though the Directive Principles of State Policy are not enforceable in the court of law, they “are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws”. In Singur the Left Front Government openly and deliberately flouted this constitutional mandate by trying to extinguish the livelihood of thousand of cultivators.

The UNDP in one of their Human Development Reports in the mid-nineties wrote about “jobless growth”. In other words, what they meant was that men and women would be available for work but there would be no work available for them. That will exactly happen in Singur. No car will be manufactured. Various parts of a car could be assembled mechanically. The whole thing would be done through ultra-modern high technology. Right to Life and Right to Livelihood are complementary to each other. Interpreting Article 21 the Supreme Court observed:

Right to livelihood is an integral facet of the right to life: [Narendra Kumar V. State of Haryana, JT (1994) 2 SCIA]

The Supreme Court has also held that right to shelter is a fundamental right. [UP Avas Evam Vikas Parishad or Friends Cooperative Housing Society Ltd. AIR1996SC114] All these fundamental rights have been wilfully trampled within Singur by forceful acquisition of agricultural land and homestead. The government is bent upon acquiring the multi-crop land of Singur. One wonders how those who brag about their “Leftism” in Delhi, Kerala, Tripura, could feel proud by insolently violating the Constitution and the established laws of the land. The Chief Minister is perhaps too tired to keep up his mask of civility and literature and culture- friendliness. He is now showing his real savage face. Why did he have to put up this pantomime for so long?

Now East Midnapore would be gobbled up. Land revenue officials would be happy, soon they would have less and less work. Hooghly is going. The fertile lands of Burdwan would soon disappear. East Midnapore is being offered to the mother, sorry, nay, to the father soon. Santosha, Salim, Bengal’s prodigal son Prasun are all with the Supreme Leader Buddha. All the lands have to be taken over by December. Did the Chief Minister read Dee Brown’s My Heart at Wounded Knee? Or the unforgettable inspiring speech of the Indian leader Sattle? If he read he would have known the aggression committed by the American Whites on the indigenous Indians. Whites developed America by the genocide of Indians, by extermination of deer and bisons and destruction of natural forests. This is what we understand by the name Bush. It is the Bush syndrome. What would Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee be? Whom would he like to be compared with? What would we think of him?

There will be no cultivable land in Singur. Lakhs of peasant cultivators, share-croppers, agricultural workers who used to live on cultivation would lose their livelihood. I would suggest that biographies of the Chief Minister, Salim, Santosha, Prasun Mukherjee should be made compulsory reading for the children of Bengal. That would ensure that two decades hence we would have a sub-race of pliant and pulpy Bengalis who would never dream of protesting.

At Frankfurt I said: “To dream is the fundamental right of every human being.” Keeping my unalterable faith in it I would advise Singur: “With the help of the Indian Constitution and the existing laws fight on. In your case the State Government is wantonly trampling all the laws and all constitutional mandates and directives to dispossess you and to extinguish your livelihood”.

Wage War.....Yes, War!
I want to see it, before I go.

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