Thursday, February 21, 2008

Singur: Myth And Reality

People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 50

December 10, 2006


Singur: Myth And Reality

THE opposition to the setting up of a motor plant in Singur in West Bengal has, indeed, attracted very strange bedfellows. BJP president Rajnath Singh, Trinamul Congress’s Mamta Banerjee, sections of state Congress leadership and Medha Patkar have all come together spreading canards against the West Bengal Left Front government and the CPI(M) in particular. The Trinamul Congress tried to recreate the violent mayhem that it did some years ago in the Keshpur village in Midnapur district. Mercifully this was foiled, for the time being at least, by the alertness of the state administration. Police deployment and declaration of section 144 was forced to be undertaken because of this.

This opportunist combine alleges that prime fertile agricultural land is being forcibly acquired from peasants virtually depriving them any alternate livelihood. Let us examine these issues dispassionately.

First, the land that has been acquired is not for any special economic zone but is part of the natural process of development and industrialisation which requires land. There are two ways in which land required for such industrialisation can be acquired. One, is to mercilessly displace people dependent on the land and impose a process of pauperisation on them. This is the classic inhuman process of primitive accumulation under capitalism. The other, is to provide adequate compensation for those whose land is being acquired for such purposes and ensuring a future livelihood by providing alternatives for the same. The first course is the one normally adopted by the ruling classes all over. Only a government committed to protecting the people’s welfare will choose the latter option. This is the option that the Left Front government of West Bengal has chosen.

Further, for such a process of industrialisation to proceed, it would be ideal to acquire non-agricultural land. In West Bengal, however, unlike in large tracts of our country, say like in Rajasthan or Gujarat, non-agricultural land is scarce to come by. Under these circumstances, the next best option is to acquire mono crop land rather than fertile multi-crop land. Requirements of contiguity, however, may require the acquisition of some fertile land, but this must be kept at the minimum and acquired only when it becomes inevitable.

From this perspective, what is the ground reality at Singur? The total land acquired is 997.11 acres. Of this, over 950 acres has the voluntary consent of the owners who have already collected their compensation (This we shall discuss later). Of the remaining land, such consent in many cases was not available as the land owners do not, normally, reside in that area. Of this land that has been acquired, over 90 per cent is mono crop land. Less than 10 per cent of this land belongs to the more than one crop category.

The compensation package worked out by the Left Front government after elaborate consultations with the local population is the following: Rs. 8.40 lakh per acre for mono crop land and around Rs. 12 lakh per acre for double crop land. This is well over one and a half times the prevailing market prices. The total amount of money to be disbursed for acquiring this land is declared at Rs. 130 crores. This is larger than the above rates as it includes compensation package for non land owners as well. A total of around 12,000 land owners and sharecroppers are entitled to receive compensation. Of these, 9,020 have collected their compensation till December 4, 2006. The claim that their livelihood is being destroyed is belied by the fact that 12,000 people are receiving compensation for less than 1000 acres. This means that a very large section of titleholders are actually earning their bread outside the agriculture and only a small section of titleholders is actually dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.

Compensation also covers the sharecroppers who are recorded in West Bengal. The number of recorded sharecroppers in this area is 237. According to the local informal reports, the number of unrecorded sharecroppers are around 170. All sharecroppers will be paid compensation equal to 25 per cent of what the land owner receives, i.e., for a mono crop land, each will receive more than Rs 2 lakhs while for the double crop land, they will receive Rs 3 lakhs per head.

Since some people may have been dependent for their livelihood working as agricultural labour on these lands and would be deprived of this in the future, all those who have enlisted themselves as agricultural labour in this area are being employed as daily wage workers immediately. As we go to press, up to December 5th, 7500 such man days have been created where these people are employed. This employment has been created by extensive community development projects that have been undertaken by the state government.

The responsibility of the government does not end with such a comprehensive compensation package. The Left Front government has started a programme of providing skills and training in different trades to those who wish to seek employment in the upcoming motor factory. As we go to press, during the last three days, 1815 have enlisted for training of whom 1372 used to cultivate their land and 443 were landless agricultural labour. A total of 180 people are imparting training for various professions such as machining, electrician, welder, fitter etc. in a newly-established institute.

In addition, 40 women are being trained in a regular sewing school opened recently in collaboration with sewing machine maker Singer. 40 more women will begin training for a course at the Institute of Catering and Management, Kolkata from December 12. They would be transported to Kolkata and brought back to their places everyday by special buses. The cost of training per head in all these skills is estimated to be Rs 7,500 per month. While the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation will bear the entire expenditure for such training, it shall also pay Rs 500 per month to each trainee as a stipend. If, in case, some do not find employment even after training, the state government will provide loans for self-employment projects.

Because of such a comprehensive compensation package, few joined the so-called popular agitation by the anti-Communist political combine at Singur. The overwhelming number of people that came to Singur do not belong to this area. As is the typical style of politics practiced by the Trinamool Congress, people are brought from outside armed with bombs and lethal weapons to create, as we noted earlier, violence and mayhem. On this occasion, they were ably assisted by ultra-Left groups whose primary target was to attack the police. Wild stories such as police firing, killing scores of innocent people were spread. The truth of the matter is that there was no firing ever. Three rubber bullets were fired in the air to disperse the crowds who were forcibly stopping the local land owners from collecting their compensation cheques.

Those who hurl baseless charges of CPI(M)’s so-called double standards in opposing forcible acquisitions for the special economic zones while implementing the same in West Bengal must realise the crucial difference, viz., while acquisitions elsewhere are being undertaken in the manner that we discussed above, i.e., by mercilessly pushing the people into pauperisation, in West Bengal, on the contrary, the other way is being followed where not only adequate compensation but also capabilities for an alternative livelihood are being undertaken by the government. For instance, in states like Maharashtra, where the State Industrial Development Corporation acquired land in Mumbai neighbourhood district, Raigad in the 80s, it paid the land owners according to their own reports, a paltry sum of Rs 30,000 per acre. There was no responsibility of the state government or any of its agencies to provide any alternative employment or give them capabilities and skills for an alternative livelihood. The Maharashtra state government is now proceeding to acquire another 28,000 acres on such terms for a Maha Mumbai special economic zone being promoted by Reliance group. Under these circumstances, the CPI(M) will surely mobilise the deprived peasantry in defence of their lands demanding reasonable and adequate compensation for those who give voluntary consent as well as the commitment and responsibility of the government for providing alternative avenues of employment.

The struggle to ensure that a comprehensive package like what is being implemented by the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal is a struggle that would be intensified by the CPI(M) in the days to come.