Singur: just the facts, please
[THE HINDU; 13 December 2006]
THE SMEAR campaign against the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Front Government on the Singur issue has been marked by a remarkable absence of facts. Invective has replaced reason. The political acumen of the critics was on display when a comparison was made between the policies of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Government, which only recently received a two-thirds majority from the people of Bengal, and the United States occupation of Iraq. So many wild allegations and fabrications have been hurled at the CPI(M) and the Left that it becomes necessary to put the record straight. In respect of consultation, consent, compensation, and concern for employment generation, Singur stands in favourable contrast to what is being done in other States.
Untruth No 1: The common theme for the charge of double standards is that while the CPI(M) opposes `forcible' acquisition of land elsewhere, in Singur its Government has done just that. According to them, "50-60 per cent of land is not sold and [the] majority of landholders in thousands are against the compulsory land acquisition and transfer of land and livelihood to the corporate."
Fact: Of the 997 acres required, the Government has received consent letters from landowners for 952 acres. Three fourths of the 12,000 persons involved, including sharecroppers, have collected the share of the total compensation amount of Rs.131.49 crore and others are waiting to do so. The large numbers involved point to the fragmentation of the plots compared with other States where there are no land ceilings and where the same amount of land would have less than one third of the number of persons. This process has been going on under the public gaze for the last three months in a claims office set up in the area, with not a single complaint that it has been anything but democratic and transparent. Indeed this is the one government that has had numerous meetings with the affected people and called all party meetings several times to discuss the details of the project, the nature of land being taken over, and the compensation package.
Untruth No. 2: "There is no compensation policy for the landless agricultural workers, unrecorded sharecroppers and rural households who are indirectly dependent for their lives and livelihood on land and agricultural activities."
Fact: It is well recognised that West Bengal under the Left has ensured registration of the majority of sharecroppers through a bitter struggle. In Singur, all the 275 sharecroppers will get 25 per cent of what landowners will get; and 170 more sharecroppers who are not registered have applied for compensation, which is under consideration.
West Bengal agriculture is characterised by a relatively high share of family labour on self-owned farms. That is why the vast majority of workers in the area earn their income through non-agricultural work. Government records for the five areas where land is being taken put the number of workers involved in non-agricultural work at around 7,700, including 1,000 women. Another 700 are involved in some type of household industry. Not surprisingly, the number of agricultural workers, around 1,230, is much less; and most of them have to do other work to ensure a minimum income. The Government has ensured alternative work for them. Already in that area, over 7,500 person-days of employment have been generated in the last few weeks. Employment for local workers will also be created in canal renovation, road widening, fence and building construction, and other activity. The Left Front Government is the only one in the country that has initiated different types of training programmes for landless workers and land losers, 1,800 of whom have already registered in different programmes. The effort is to ensure that alternative work and livelihood is ensured.
Untruth No. 3: Singur land is prime agricultural land. While the CPI(M) opposes the acquisition of prime agricultural land in other States, in West Bengal it is doing the same thing.
Fact: According to Government records, approximately 90 per cent of the land is single crop. 175.5 acres of fertile land in the command area of the deep tube wells have been excluded and less fertile land included. Land has been changing hands faster in Singur than in any other part of West Bengal. Over the last year or so, there have been 572 private land transactions of approximately 300 acres of land, at one-third the rate given as compensation in the Singur project. This is the opposite of what is happening in other States, where land is being acquired from the peasantry at less than the market price. According to Census data, the share of fallow land, wasteland, pastures and so on is only 1 per cent in West Bengal compared with the national average of 17.6 per cent. Clearly, for taking forward agricultural growth, expanding employment opportunities in agriculture, and ensuring industrialisation, a proper land use policy is essential. The State Government is preparing precisely this.
Untruth No. 4: "There was unheard of and unprecedented police brutality on December 1 — women are being sexually abused, their clothes torn off and children drowned in the local water bodies. Police had fired, several people are injured. [The] CPI(M) cadre are wearing police uniforms and terrorising the people."
Fact: This constitutes a cluster of fabrications so outrageous and so far removed from the truth that nobody takes them seriously. The report of the NGO `fact-finding' team cannot name a single child thrown in a water body nor one woman who was sexually abused. If there was brutal beating and repression, surely there would have been scores of people with fractured limbs and broken heads who would have no doubt been paraded before the media as proof. If there were police excesses the Government must take action. But as the women of Singur told me, in all these months when the process of giving consent was on, there was not a single policeman in their village. On the contrary, they said, 20 houses of those who had given land to the Government were damaged. Members of the Krishi Jami Raksha Samity (KJRS), an alliance of 19 parties ranging from the Right to the ultra-Left led by the local TMC MLA, tried to prevent the fencing work. Bombs were thrown at the police, which chased the crowd into the village, lathi-charged, and tear-gassed them.
When 12,000 directly affected people have given their consent and collected their compensation, it is clear that those who are involved in the violent protests, which are politically motivated, have little to do with the interests of those affected. The land has to be fenced off and the Government will be shirking its responsibility by not doing so. As the Chief Minister has said, it is unfortunate that the police had to use force against the demonstrators; but it is doubtful that a force attacked with bombs will respond differently anywhere.
The question arises: why Section 144? Why prevent people from visiting the area? Why the police force? The provisions apply to all parties, including the CPI(M). However, the critics have double standards.
When the CPI(M) and its Kisan Sabha organised a demonstration in the villages earlier in November before Section 144 was imposed, it was described by the KJRS as "intimidation." When bombs are thrown at policemen and women, it is the democratic right to protest! The West Bengal Assembly was opened for two days to the general public and a hundred thousand people went inside to see the damage and vandalism of the State Assembly by TMC MLAs.
West Bengal has seen the havoc and violence wrought by a politically frustrated Opposition. Singur is their target. Those being mobilised are not the peasants or workers affected by the project — but others led by the Opposition. Such a situation is likely to lead to counter protests, causing a law and order problem. Hence the use of Section 144. The sooner this is lifted, the better it will be but that is an assessment the Government will have to make.
The Left is conscious of the need to defend, consolidate, and advance the agrarian gains of the people of West Bengal. Nevertheless, the leaders of what are nowadays called `social movements' would do well to recognise that a progressive, people-centred social and economic policy cannot proceed if the very process of industrialisation is seen as sinister and alien.
(Brinda Karat is a member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI[M].)
Brinda Karat’s Untruths
Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samiti
“Untruth” means lies. So who are these people whom Ms Karat is accusing of being liars? Leaving aside the TMC who are the traditional enemies of the CPM, these liars include both the RSP and the CPI, Left Front partners who have repeatedly expressed their disapproval of the way in which the Singur issue has been handled, the police atrocities and the lack of transparency; Medha Patkar, her comrade of many struggles; Mahasweta Devi an 81 year old woman who has spent her life writing about the struggles of the oppressed; Justice Moloy Sengupta a retired Chief Justice, and many civil society organizations whose reports have been used below . The list could go on and on. Most significantly this list also includes all the newspaper reports and TV images that we have been seeing over the past 7 months since this struggle started on May 25th 2006.Last, but not least, it also includes the people of Singur who have been saying a loud NO to the Tatas project over and over again.But let us come to Brinda Karat’s untruths.Untruth 1: Of the 997 acres required, the Government has received consent letters from landowners for 952 acres.Facts: As early as 17 July 2006 the members of the Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (SKJRC) provided the Government with letters from owners and sharecroppers of about 950 acres of land who refused to give their land for the Tata Motors project. Since then, some absentee landlords have given their letters of consent. Due to various pressures, some of the farmers decided to give their land. A sample survey done by Sanhati Udyog in November 2006 showed that of the 335 land holders that they interviewed, and who owned 261.49acres, only 20 were willing to or had already handed over their land to the Government. 315 households owning 237.19 acres had refused to give their land. Those willing to hand over their land gave reasons as “family pressure/other business/can’t fight CPI (M) andTatas/single-crop land.”On 6.12.06 the SKJRC provided us with signed letters from 300 farmers who have given the details of their land holdings amounting to 184 acres and have declared that “we have not and will not give our land to Tata Motors.” These letters and the land record detailscan be given whenever anyone wants to look at them. The SKJRC has collected such letters from owners of over 400 acres. A great deal of claims and counter claims are being made about consent letters. The best thing would be for the Government to publicly makeavailable the list of those who have actually given their land. On 12th December when Brinda Karat was in Kolkata, only 42 farmers said they had given consent. According to the Dainik Statesman (13th December 2006), when the CPI(M)’s Hooghly District Secretary, Shri Balaram Sapui was questioned at the site of Brinda Karat’s meeting about why only 42 farmers had signed the letter, he stated that the list of the other farmers who had given consent was publicly displayed at the Singur Block office. When we asked the BDO for thislist the next day, he said no list was available with him.Untruth 2: this is the one government that has had numerous meetings with the affected people and called all party meetings several times to discuss the details of the project, the nature of land being taken over, and the compensation package.Facts: Undemocratic and forcible land acquisition is the most deplorable features of the Singur project. The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation status report itself makes this amply clear. In a column marked “Outcome” the report clearly statesthat no decision transpired at any of the 9 meetings with the local people. There is no other evidence given in this report of popular consent for the project. Similarly, the government report mentions that there was strong local resistance to the project andthat “entry to the land to explore the terrain and to ascertain the ground conditions by WBIDC could not be done till early December”.In spite of such clear evidence of resistance and local discontent the Government went ahead with acquisition after declaring Section 144 and using a huge police force to quell the peaceful resistance of the people.>From newspaper reports it is clear that the people of Singur resisted the Tata Motors project from 25th May 2006, the first day the Tata Motors team went to inspect the site. The team was gheraoed and had to be rescued by the police. A peaceful movement was startedafter that. Later, on rallies were organised by SKJRC to the BDO (1st July) and DM office 13th July), a road blockade (24th July), boycott of Government’s hearing (22nd August), lying down on the road by the village women to prevent delivery of notice by the Government (1-2 September). On the day when commencement of payment began (25th September), 7000 people gathered at the block office and were assaulted in the middle of the night after lights were put off deliberately by the police and party cadres. 40 people were injured and 1 person (Rajkumar Bhul) died.Blockades by all major political parties followed (26th and 27th September). Further agitations were organized all through October and November by the SKJRC and major political parties, but there has been no stop to the process in spite of a worsening politicalsituation. Discussion and dialogue have been totally absent from the entire process.Untruth 3 : It is well recognised that West Bengal under the Left has ensured registration of the majority of sharecroppers through a bitter struggle. In Singur, all the 275 sharecroppers will get 25 per cent of what landowners will get; and 170 more sharecroppers who are not registered have applied for compensation, which is under consideration.Facts : Nagarik Manch in a response to the WBIDC Status Report says that the status report puts the total number of bargadars as 407 (recorded and unrecorded. “As per Government standards, in undivided Bengal and, later, in West Bengal, right from the days of the Land Revenue Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Francis Floud,1940, it is accepted that in any area, over and above the recorded landowners, there would be bargadars, and their number would be at least 20% of the number of landowners.” The WBIDC status report gives a total of 12000 landowners, so according to Nagarik Manchthere should have been ‘at least’ 2400 recorded and unrecorded bargadars. Similarly, Sanhati Udyog’s report claims that there are at least 1200 unrecorded bargadars in the area. The Government is therefore definitely depriving this section. The truth of the matteris that the need was for an accurate survey of actual land use and ownership before Singur was started , but in its haste to pander to the whims of the Tatas, the Government plunged headlong into acquisition without bothering to see who might be deprived.Untruth 4 :The vast majority of workers in the area earn their income throughnon-agricultural work. Government records for the five areas where land is being taken put the number of workers involved in non-agricultural work at around 7,700, including 1,000 women. Another 700 are involved in some type of household industry. Not surprisingly, the number of agricultural workers, around 1,230, is much less; and most of them have to do other work to ensure a minimum income.Facts : There seems to be some mistake in the figures being quoted by Brinda Karat. The total number of main workers in the five mouzas where acquisition is taking place is 7710. These include 1320 cultivators and 1224 agricultural workers or 33% of the workingpopulation which is directly dependent on agriculture. However, in an area as rich as Singur even the others (691 in household industries and 4475 in other occupations) would include those whose work is dependent on the agricultural production in the area.In a flourishing agricultural area, the income of shopkeepers and others around depends on the well being of those directly in cultivation. The Sanhati Udyog survey done in November estimates that there are 450-500 rickshaw pullers who transport vegetables,150 vegetable vendors , 200 households engaged in animal husbandry etc. They also mention about 1000 wage labourers, called garir kishen who come to work everyday by train from Bardhaman , Bankura and Hooghly , and about 800 agricultural workers who come fromJharkhand as seasonal migrants. The cold storage at Ratanpur nearby which gets its goods from these areas also employs 5000 migrant labourers.The truth is that it is assumed that it is only industry that has ancillaries. The fact thatagriculture also creates ripple effects and ancillaries and that flourishing agriculture can also lead to a rich and developed life is something that seems to be a truth which this Government once propagated and now seems to have forgotten.Untruth 5 : The Government has ensured alternative work for them. Already in that area, over 7,500 person-days of employment have been generated in the last few weeks. Employment for local workers will also be created in canal renovation, road widening, fence and building construction, and other activity.Facts : A village right next to the project site (Dobandi) has 63 agricultural worker families. All of them used to work in the fenced off area. They claim that they would have received work for two months on a continuous basis during the upcoming potato season, but are now facing starvation. None of them have been employed in the fencing work, where most workers have been brought from outside the immediate vicinity of the forcibly acquired land. Out migration was practically unknown in the area, but now all these agricultural workers will be forced to leave their homes in search of work. Also, all agricultural workers who used to come to this area on a regular work from nearby districts and Jharkhand will also lose their work.Untruth 6 : The Left Front Government is the only one in the country that has initiated different types of training programmes for landless workers and land losers, 1,800 of whom have already registered in different programmes. The effort is to ensure thatalternative work and livelihood is ensured.Facts : Nagarik Mancha states that the farmers in Singur are skilled at agriculture and other land-related activities. “Having targeted to ‘de-skill’ them, having made them virtually ‘unemployable’, a lot is being made subsequently about imparting training. Figures in the Government report show that only 0.7% (179 of the 20000) rendered jobless are receiving training for future employment at Tata factory or in the ‘probable’ ancillaries.”Even if Ms Karat’s figure of 1800 receiving training is correct, then the percentage of those receiving training becomes 9%. The advertisements of the organisations imparting these training quite understandably declare that there could be no job guarantee.Untruth 7 : : According to Government records, approximately 90 per cent of the land is single crop.Facts : The Government is relying on outdated land records for these figures. Nagarik Mancha’s report says that “The last land-use map available with the Government of West Bengal was drawn during the ’70’s. At that time the classification was based on theintensity of agriculture considering this area to be ‘rain-fed’. Since then the WB Government has set up four deep tube wells and renovated three DVC fed canals in this area. Productivity has increased manifold paving the way for 27 privately owned mini deep tube wells and hundreds of diesel/kerosene run mini pump sets for lifting water from channels. The ‘rain-fed’ land has become ‘irrigated land’. Presently there are 42 power-tillers in thearea. Could all these be there if this area was a predominantly mono-crop and partially double-crop land?Now which is a ‘fact’ — what the map drawn in 70’s says or what exists in 2006 on the ground level?”Untruth 8 : Land has been changing hands faster in Singur than in any other part of West Bengal . Over the last year or so, there have been 572 private land transactions of approximately 300 acres of land, at one-third the rate given as compensation in the Singurproject. This is the opposite of what is happening in other States, where land is being acquired from the peasantry at less than the market price.Facts : The compensation given by the Government for Sali land as per the WBIDC report is Rs. 8.60 lakhs per acre and Rs.12.76 lakhs per acre for Suna land. The land documents in the same mouzas however show that market land prices are higher. For example, Prasenjit Das has 12 cottahs (0.6 acres) of Sali land in Gopalnagar mouza, which is just outside the project. The land titles show that he has purchased this land for Rs.5 lakhs and that the Government valuation and registration fees for this land are also the same. This would amount to Rs.25 lakhs per acre only for the land costs while the Government award, which includes solatium, interest, a bonus for consent and crop compensation is only Rs.8.60 lakhs. The Government is acquiring land for the benefit of the Tatas at one third the market price - exactly what is happening in all other states!Untruth 9 : According to Census data, the share of fallow land, wasteland, pastures and so on is only 1 per cent in West Bengal compared with the national average of 17.6 per cent.Facts : Even if this is correct there are differences within West Bengal. Hooghly district is the district with highest crop intensity in West Bengal and with a huge population pressure. Why use this land? Why not ask the Tatas to go to Purulia district where 20% ofthe land is non-cultivable? Why not, as Kamal Kanta Khara, a hunger striker from the SKJRC suggested, go to mono cropped land in Talerbheri and Korerbheri and other neighbouring Mouzas that are about 1-2 kilometres from the present site? Why not go to Dankuni anindustrial area that is about 15 kms away? Or to the dozens of alternative sites mentioned by Mahasweta Devi and APDR?Untruth 10: The report of the NGO `fact-finding’ team cannot name a single child thrown in a water body nor one woman who was sexually abused. If there was brutal beating and repression, surely there would have been scores of people with fractured limbs and broken heads who would have no doubt been paraded before the media as proof. Bombs were thrown at the police, which chased the crowd into the village, lathi-charged, and tear-gassed them.Facts : As Brinda Karat herself admits, the police chased the crowd into the village ,lathi charged and tear gassed them. What was the police doing inside a village which has not had any history of violence? And where are the policemen who were injured by bombs? Why has the Government not “paraded them before the media as proof”? On 6th December, when we visited the affected villages, a number of women complained about sexual molestation, use of foul language and harassment by the police on 2nd December 2006. The women said it was male police who came into their houses, chasing them from the fields for a distance as long as 750 metres for Khaser Bheri and about 1.5 kilometres for Beraberi Purba Para , the two villages that faced the maximum police brutality. Their intention was very clearly not to deal with a law and order problem, but to beat the people into submission. The women recognized some of the police as being local party supporters dressed as police men. They were even able to name a few of these people.The complainants on the 6th include Rupa Koley who showed us her shirt that was torn by the police and wounds on her upper left arm; Bharati Das of Khaser Bheri , who also met Nilotpal Basu at Delhi on 6 th December, with fractured ribs and a smashed hand; Rita Das’s (Khaser Bheri) whose left foot was smashed by a rubber bullet; Maya Das (Bera Beri) whose foot was burnt by a tear gas shell.MASUM’s factfinding report on the 2nd itself mentions several other ways in which the police broke the law ; custody memos were not given , two minor girls were arrested and kept with adults in the lock up, the women’s cell was not used etc. They also spoke to menwho had been arrested and were in the District hospital. These include Dilip Das 44 years old who had a head wound that bled profusely for three hours before treatment and required eightstitches; Mritunjoy Patra , 55 years old with an injured right leg; Tapan Batyabol, 53 years old with heamatoma in both legs; Bilas Sarkar 26 years with injured left shoulder, lacerated injuries and swelling due to blows in many parts of his body. 10 other undertrial prisoners in the police lock up also showed injury marks.In West Bengal we are used to the CPM and the Government functioning in collusion. Seldom does the CPM criticize the Government and the Government always protects the CPM’s interests. We had expected the CPM outside West Bengal to be more objective in its dealings.However we seem to have been mistaken. PS Grewal of the Delhi CPM State Committee has been circulating a Government report to defend his party’s position . And Brinda Karat has relied on the same report by the perpetrators of an injustice to justify theinjustice. We invite her to visit Singur to see the truth for herself.
Meher Engineer on Brinda Karat on Singur
You ask for comments on Karat’ s article. I start with the advice that it ends with. The advice is offered to those who she calls ”the leaders of what are nowadays called “social movements.” She also calls them outright liars and slanderers, and accuses one of them of exhibiting a low level of political acumen. But we can ignore those things because the people of Singur do not make up a debating society. It is her advice that the leaders refrain from seeing all industrial development as sinister and alien, which is of interest.We can easily evaluate the advice by recalling a statistic quoted in the recent Oxfam report on “What’s holding others back?” (Page 31)(www.oxfam.org/en/files/serve_essentials2/downloadis).The statistic, which was taken from an earlier report of the Planning Commission’s (2000) ‘Special Group on Targeting Ten Million Employment Opportunities per Year’, New Delhi, Government of India, says: ”In India, in the post liberalization period, unemployment on a Current Daily Status basis rose from 6 per cent in 1993–94 to 7.3 per cent in 1999–2000 resulting in an additional 27 million job seekers. Of these, 74 per cent are in rural areas and 60 per cent of them are educated.”Now the Karats of the Indian left would not describe that development as either dextral or homely, if only because they see themselves as pro people paragons. But neither would those leftists who do not go along with the Karat’s, who then treat them, as paragons will, as political pariahs. I submit that neither the abuse nor the distinctions serve any useful purpose. Why?I can think of four reasons why: that Oxfam, which is not known in India for being part of the revolutionary left, has nevertheless clearly realized that a ‘90’s kind of industrial development will lie like a kafan over this country, a kafan far more dreadful than the one in Premchand’s story because it will smother the hopes of common folk; that the states where the Left was in power in the nineties were not immune to the effects of that spurt in industrial development; that the Left is correct when it blames the bad policies of the Central Government for the effects, but falters when it dismisses the question “What did the self described pro people Left parties do to counter those policies, in the states where they ruled, if not elsewhere?” that then follows; and finally, that the answer to the question is, “It is most probable that Left did nothing worthwhile, and certain that it did nothing new.The claim of the Karat’s, to being pro people, is seen to be a fiction. It is a weak fiction in those parts of the country where the Left is weak. The fiction gains in strength in West Bengal where the people of the state have elected a Left variety to power for almost three decades. It is at its strongest now in Singur, because the Left Front has determined that it alone is competent to ascertain the wishes of the people of that place and that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code shall rule there till the people agree with their rulers.I am reminded of Bertolt Brecht, who told the rulers of the now dead German Democratic Republic when they complained to him about the lack of popular enthusiasm for their rule, that if the government felt that the people had betrayed the government, perhaps the government should “abolish the people and elect a new one.” His advice comes, unbidden, to one’s mind.
Monday, February 12, 2007