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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 38

The Chief Minister is Lying

Wednesday 10 September 2008, by Medha Patkar


It is now clear that the Left Front Government of West Bengal has come forward in support of the Tata project in Singur by sacrificing the interests of the peasants, bargardars (sharecroppers) and agricultural labourers. As a consequence of forcibly taking away their land the life and livelihood of these peasants, bargadars (sharecroppers) and agricultural labourers have been endangered. Cutting across all views people are saying this about the ‘transport policy’ of the government: in West Bengal, where there are lakhs of acres of fallow land, this automobile plant could have been set up in any empty space available. But the State Government did not listen to this argument and gave no importance to the request that minimum land unfit for cultivation be utilised for the purpose. The Tatas too are not responding to any rationale or appeal and not replying to these requests. They are audaciously carrying on the work of their plant by keeping intact their obstinacy. What is happening in Singur is not at all surprising in the light of whatever the Tatas have been doing in recent years in Kalinganagar and elsewhere going against their own tradition of working in defence of people’s interests.

Most painful is to find the Ministers of the Left Front, and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Industries and Commerce Minister Nirupam Sen in particular, propagating a series of lies. Nirupam Sen has once again claimed that if land is acquired for public interest then it cannot be used for any other purpose. This is not true. According to Article 48 of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 the land can be transferred by revoking the acquisition. To acquire land in excess of what is needed for genuine purpose is an act of treachery and it can be objected to on the basis of the Land Acquisition Act itself. If it was timely notified the people would have certainly registered their objection in accordance with Section 4 of the Notification the and hearing would have been held as per Section 5a. But nothing of that happened.

Like in other projects here too the process of acquisition was not legitimately conducted. It is relevant to narrate a case in this context. Adivasi peasants were adversely affected due to the Bargi dam. The National Commission of SCs and STs approved the issue of returning to the adviasis the excess land acquired from them there. As a result the advisasi peasants were able to get back several thousand acres of land. This was certainly not an unconstitutional act. On the other hand it is clear from this development that even if land is acquired for any public interest project it can be transferred for any other public interest project but cannot be used for any private/non-government purpose. Returning land to the peasants for the purpose of cultivation (this can be also explained as rehabilitation of the displaced people) definitely falls within the proclaimed purpose of public interest.

THE demand that is being raised here is a kind of formula for settlement. That demand is of returning the 400 acres which is in excess of that needed for setting up the plant. But the Tatas are characterising this demand as illegitimate and the Ministers are calling it illegal. Those who are raising questions about land acquisition, the time–worn and insulting charge of being anti-industrialisation is being labelled against them. This charge cannot wash. Because it is now coming out that the corporate world is not only devouring land for industry but by killing agriculture they are raising buildings and luxurious apartments for their industry that are being considered as ‘manufacturing’ sector according to the definition in the SEZ Act.

Here the Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (Committee to Protect Agricultural Land) has started anew a movement in full support of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. Even if they do not approve any formula to settle the dispute they—that is, the Krishi Jami Raksha Committee, the people and parties like the Trinamul Congress, SUC—have every right to go ahead in strengthening this movement. They will receive the support of people’s movements in the country on this issue. Is the decision of the West Bengal Government a manifestation of their ignorance of the public position or a signal of the power the corporates enjoy in a representative democracy?—the answer to this question could be found through a public debate on the issue alone.

What is development, what is industrialisation and what are the different paths to development and industrialisation? The corporates never want to engage in a debate on these issues. If the West Bengal Government seeks to test the waters by enacting another Nandigram who can prevent them from doing so?

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