Thursday, November 15, 2007

Farmers boycott Mahishadal land meet

The Times of India

5 Nov 2007, 0246 hrs IST,Suman Mondal,TNN

MAHISHADAL: The anti-land acquisition stir refuses to die down in rural Bengal, putting a question mark on chief minster Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's industrialisation plans.

After Singur and Nandigram, the embers of protest have spread to Mahishadal. On Sunday, farmers of Bedkundu — one of the three areas identified for land acquisition — shot down the proposals to part with their agricultural holdings to make way for a ship-building factory to be set up by the Apeejay and Bharati groups.

They even refused to attend the meeting at the Bedkundu panchayat office, where corporate representatives and government officials had been waiting for them.

Trouble broke out around 9 am, soon after the Bedkundu panchayat pradhan invited villagers to a meeting with corporate officials to discuss the project. Senior government officials, including additional district magistrate, Haldia Development Authority CEO and Haldia subdivisional police officer, were also present. The purpose was to sensitise villagers about the industrial prospects and the compensation offer. However, villagers, led by the Bhumi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), held a protest rally against efforts to acquire land. The government, however, is yet to issue any acquisition notice.

Prior to the meeting, farmers and members of the local panchayat claimed that the government has primarily identified three villages — Bhangagora, Deulpota and Badur — to make way for the ship building factory. The initial plan was to acquire a total 350 acres in these three villages. BUPC members inflated the proposed acquisition target to 700 acres, thus igniting tension in the villages.

Local BUPC leader Gautam Batabyal said agricultural plots in this part of East Midnapore was fertile and not ideal for setting up industry.

"We will not go for any negotiation with the government and will oppose land acquisition to our last," said Batabyal. He claimed that a cooperative society — Dharmapur Samaj Kalyan Samabay Krisi Unnayan Samity —is doing brisk business in the area sanctioning loans to betel farmers who take as much as Rs 70 lakh on credit and repay the amount after the yield.

"The society has a tie-up with the Tamluk Ghatal Central Cooperative Bank. For the past 20 years, there have hardly been any defaulter," said society director Kanailal Maity, a resident of Deulpota.

"Where agricultural activities is reaping such harvest for the villagers of these places, why is the government targeting these very areas for industry?" asked BUPC members. A few weeks ago, villagers had prevented Haldia Development Authority officials to conduct a survey in these areas.