Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > August 30, 2008 > Singur: How Buddha ’Implemented’ Jyoti’s Pledge

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

Singur: How Buddha ’Implemented’ Jyoti’s Pledge

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Manas Ghosh

When Jyoti Basu was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the first Left Front Government in West Bengal on June 21, 1977, one of the many “solemn pledges” that he and his senior Minister, Krishnapada Ghosh, made to the mammoth gathering that had assembled before Writers’ Buildings, which spilled over to the neighbouring streets, was that his credo was that his Ministry would “never betray the interest of the State’s small and marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers”. He was candid enough to admit that it was “your spontaneous overwhelming support that has installed us at Writers’ Buildings”.

The other solemn pledge made was that his Marxist Government “would always strive to provide them whatever relief it could within the limited power that it enjoys under the Constitution”. Amidst tumultuous scenes of joyous welcome he had also announced to the cheering crowd that “unlike the previous semi-fascist Congress regime there will be no exploitation of the poor… I assure you that there will be no repeat of the cold fascist terror under our rule.”

Thirtyone years down the line, those solemn pledges have, tragically enough, been forgotten by him and his “worthy” successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Land acquisition for the Tatas at Singur by Buddhadeb has not only defied all the time-tested and clearly laid down government norms and rules, but also exposed the ruthless, sinister and exploitative character of the Bengal Marxists whose wheeling-dealing in the perfidious Singur episode has put even the baniyas to shame.

Those who had once pledged to “protect” and “liberate” the State’s small and marginal farmers from the clutches of big business and land mafias have now themselves turned out to be the worst exploiters, the “real devils in disguise”. And worse, the main tormentor and source of…well, trauma.

After all, out of the 12,624 land losers in Singur, 65 per cent are small and marginal farmers whose small holdings have been taken for the Tata factory through trickery, fraud and terror, leading to an involuntary displacement, a deprivation of their livelihood and shelter. Worse, they have also been uprooted from genetic socio-economic and cultural environment and moorings leading to 10 deaths from suicide, starvation and murder.

THE misery of Singur’s land-losers is pathetic since over 60 per cent of them are Scheduled Castes and Tribes for whose socio-economic betterment Bhattacharjee always cries hoarse. But he never bothered to determine what socio-economic and cultural impact land acquisition in Singur would have on these weaker sections. And yet he and his Industries Minister, Nirupam Sen, chose to resort to chicanery to deprive these hapless people of not only their rightful dues but also ignore shouldering their rehabilitation and resettlement, which is the duty of any democratic government.

None of their grievances and apprehensions about future livelihood and sustainable income was addressed. They lied through their teeth about the quality of land being acquired and refused to admit any government role in providing alternative means of livelihood to those displaced, in whichever way, in Singur.

Both talked about giving “adequate” monetary compensation to those dispossessed of their land but never once talked about their rehabilitation and resettlement. Not once did they ackowledge the plight of those who had no legal and recognised rights to the acquired land on which their dependence was critical for their subsistence and survival. The call for a joint concerted effort by the government, the Tatas and the affected to include in the rehabilitation and resettlement process those who have lost land and other assets because of acquisition, was contemptuously ignored.

So also was the suggestion that the State Government have a clear perception, through a careful quantification of the costs and benefits that would accrue to society at large, of the desirability and justifiability of the Singur project. The adverse impact on the affected families—economic, environmental, social and cultural—needed to be assessed in a participatory and transparent manner, as laid down in the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy of 2003 and 2007. This was blatantly ignored.

The policy was wilfully given a go-by because it was very clearly stated that “the aim of land acquisition should be to minimise largescale displacement as far as possible”. The policy was also ignored because, if the government and the Tatas were to fulfil all the “safety requirements”, the “illegal” acquisition of highly fertile land yielding six crops at Singur could not have taken place.

The policy provides that it must apply to all projects where involuntary displacement takes place. Its application is mandatory, especially where a large number of families belonging to the Schedule Castes and Tribes are involved. The government has to specify clear time-frames within which rehabilitation as well as utilisation of the land for the specific project has to be completed.

The policy states clearly that “it is mandatory to do social impact assessment and provide all required infrastructural facilities and amenities in the resettlement area”. The policy points out that “only the minimum area of land commensurate with the purpose of the project may be acquired”. Also, as far as possible “projects may be set up on wastelands, degraded land or unirrigated land. Acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural use may be kept to the minimum; rich highly fertile multicrop land may be avoided to the extent possible for such purpose and acquisition of irrigated land if unavoidable, may be kept to the minimum.”

That it was imperative for the government to provide additional benefits, besides monetary compensation, was not even mentioned once by the Chief Minister. Repeated warnings that the government’s failure to put in place a rehabilitation and resettlement package would unleash on the affected people a tragedy of gigantic proportion were ignored. Despite being told that the displacement process made it impossible for the affected to continue with their earlier livelihood after resettlement, had no impact on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. On the contrary, the nonagenarian party patriarch, Jyoti Basu, was deployed to counter the mounting criticism that not enough was being done for the affected. Jyoti Basu also started parroting the Alimuddin falsity that compensation for the affected was the “highest and the best in the country”.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also did not pay heed to the advice that even capitalist bourgeois governments the world over provided a safety net well in advance of land acquisition.

Not only did he fall to fulfil as the Chief Minister his social obligation for the State’s industrial development, he also knowingly and wilfully cheated the Singur farmers by paying compensation which was much below the market rate.

India’s richest alluvial soil in Singur is so fertile that it can be weighed in gold. Connectivity-wise too its rating is very high because it is next to an eight-lane national highway and is close to Kolkata, its airport and railway termini. For such a land, offering a compensation of Rs 12,60,000 an acre amounts to downright cheating and exploitation, especially when the NOIDA farmers are being given Rs 35 lakhs an acre for inferior quality land by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati.

Clearly Jyoti Basu’s pledge to West Bengal’s small and marginal farmers that they would never be betrayed has come to naught.

(Courtesy : The Statesman)

The author is the editor of Dainik Statesman, the Bengali daily.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)