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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 38

Singur—Sowing Problems

Wednesday 10 September 2008, by Subrata Sinha

Singur is once again in the news. In this context we reproduce, with due acknowledgment, the following article published in Hindu Business Line (January 29, 2007) that gave a different dimension of the Singur problem barely highlighted, if at all, in the media.

Cultivated food is the most vital human survival necessity. Yet, the global scenario is indeed bleak. Food production has failed to keep pace with the burgeoning population! Even the ‘Save The Earth’ report for the Rio Summit states that ‘despite the use of pesticides and fertilisers, the world’s per capita grain production has fallen every year since 1985’. It is indeed a losing battle for survival!

Significantly, copious monsoon rainfall, prolific water resources and an immensely fertile soil mosaic has made the Ganga-Brahmaputra alluvial basin of the Indian sub-continent a prime global food producer. It is also a point to ponder that apart from some coastal zones, there are hardly any such rich food regions on earth. Thus any attempt to commandeer even a fraction of such an invaluable cropping zone would be a venial sin. More so with hundreds of millions of Indians need all the food that the country produces! Unplanned urbanisation and sprawling industrial development have already taken their toll! By a quirk of nature, there is indeed a startling correlation between the distribution of water and soil fertility causing some regions to be ideally suited for agricultural development.

The crème de la crème of this prime alluvial basin is the Hooghly river valley, capable of diversified multi-cropping the year round. This because of rich alluviation during the monsoons , prolific groundwater and a network of stream channels. If cultivated with care, virtually every bit of its land is a veritable gold mine. In fact, massive investments of more than a thousand crores for irrigation, canals (DVC network) and large and small bore-wells, were made. Singur is an area which received special attention; to yield a harvest basket of food grains, vegetables and potatoes. A major industrial unit shall totally destroy this infrastructure not only in Singur but all around with innumerable smaller units mushrooming.

This causes serious pollution of the life-support system of air, water and air. Already the situation is threatening very human survival. Fumes and emissions aggravate global warming, while toxic industrial wastes vitiate the land and water resources. Singur area is exceptionally vulnerable in this respect due its geo-hydrological situation. The subsurface formations are almost totally sandy. The rich topsoil is built by the prolonged interaction of biotic elements through cultivation, but not sealed off. This shall facilitate its transmission into aquifers along the Hooghly basin. Just imagine the multiplier effect on this basin!

Further west beyond the Rupnarayan river, the sediments are derived from the Chotanagpur plateaue are more consolidated with the surface formations not permitting direct infiltration. This makes the belt nearer Kharagpur (with adequate access and infrastructure) more suitable from the pollution aspects. In fact, ventures may be considered west of the Hooghly alluvial basin proper.

THE forte of resurgent West Bengal is its post-land reforms agriculture with small scale and cottage based industrialisation; it also has the rare distinction of foodgrain self-sufficiency. A despicable combination of ruthless governmental power abuse and gross social injustice of global capitalism should not be allowed to tarnish the image.

The more sensible alternatives that would benefit the overwhelming majority, instead of launching a project for the affluent few at such an environmental and agricultural damage must be now considered—for example, numerous food processing units with the help of the thriving self-help groups to explore the vast domestic market. Ironically, many vast countries like Australia and the USA with hardly any population density have made foodstuff production a major export, while countries like India and Bangladesh with some of the prime farmlands are bogged down by population density and food shortage! They are waiting to pounce on pliant governments of food producing countries for exports at their humiliating terms and conditions.

The Tata’s Singur Project, besides the proposed Special Economic Zones in various parts of the food producing terrain of the country, would really be the final nail in the coffin of the country’s sovereignty.

The author is a former Deputy Director General, Geological Survey of India.

At the start of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s indefinite dharna at Singur on August 24, 2008 on the issue of returning 400 acres of land outside the Tatas’ Nano car project (which land is to be used for setting up ancilliary industries) to the peasants from whom it was forcibly acquired, Medha Patkar delivered a speech the gist of which appeared in Dainik Statesman. The following is a rough English translation of whatever appeared in Dainik Statesman (in Bengali) for the benefit of our readers. As many as 21 camps of those offering dharna have been set up in Singur under the banner of Krishi Jami o Jiban-Jibika Raksha Committee (Committee to Protect Agricultural Land, Life and Livelihood) spearheading the demand of the Trinamul chief, and several political parties like the SUC and PDS as well as a large number of mass organisations have joined the dharna. We are also reproducing an article that appeared in Mainstream Republic Day Special 2007 on the Singur peasants’ struggle based on interactions with them. This is of relevance even today when the peasants there are still engaged in a life and death battle for their survival.

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