Monday, July 7, 2008

Statesman report about Under Development: Singur

CORRIGENDUM: " What the group has discovered is that only 100 acres of the land allocated for the project is being used for the factory building, the remaining acres will be used to set up a private township for the workers."

Citizens' Initiative wishes to modify this statement. What we wanted to get across about the space used by the Tata motors factory and the residential houses was much more conjectural than a categorical statement of fact. Our discussions with residents of Singur and experts have led us to conclude that the space for setting up the factory would perhaps be about 10% of the total walled area and that Singur is a much more strategically located area in terms of the already extant infrastructure than uncultivated areas in West Bengal. Also, though we have seen houses being built within the acquired space, it is not yet clear whether there will be a private township for the workers.

Land of no return
Heidi Hagenlocher

Members of Citizens’ Initiative, comprising students from Jadavpur University, professors and activists, host an exhibition dedicated to Singur and Nandigram. They tell Heidi Hagenlocher it’s no use having a developed state if the people are not self-sufficient

What would you tell someone if they told you that you had to give up your land, along with your livelihood, for the betterment of your state?
For the people of Singur, they have had many opportunities to protest and little reason to celebrate.
But they are hard working, so they set up tea stands, do embroidery work, to earn a little income. It is a far cry from the harvest they used to yield, before they were told that a small-car factory would bring not only work for the people but development for the state.
The first time Citizens’ Initiative, a group made up of mostly English Literature students from Jadavpur University as well as professors and activists, went to Singur in Hooghly district it was on a fact-finding mission, to see for themselves how the construction of the Tata Motors small-car factory had affected people. After encountering the hospitality of the villagers and hearing some of their stories, members of the group were compelled to return.
The result is Under Development: Singur, a photography exhibit, coupled with a panel discussion and film festival that took place last weekend at Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre. A full report of the group’s findings from their visits to Singur and Nandigram from February to August 2008 will be available in the coming months.
“What is a very important part of this exhibition is the growing relationship between the students who come from such privileged background and these people... our efforts have that personal touch, these are not only photographs of burnt houses and bleeding people which is what comes out in the media, you know, sensational news but these are pictures of people leading their day to day lives,” said Madhura Chakraborty, one of the group members.
The photographs vividly demonstrate that there is no short-term solution to what now troubles the people of Singur ~ no matter which political party is in power. The cement has been poured, the walls have come up around the 997.11 acres of land allocated for the project, and the factory is being built, permanently damaging the once fertile land.
“They can’t get back that land and put it to any use. But most of them think that they’re going to get back the land and go back to cultivating it. We’ve encountered this in several cases and several people have told us now that it’s going to the Supreme Court we’re hoping to get back the land. I don’t think that’s an option for them… the Opposition is exploiting them in that sense,” Chakraborty said.
Members of the group first started discussing development issues after 2 December, 2006, when police officers and CPI-M cadres burnt the houses of Singur villagers who were opposing the land acquisition. Since they were students of English Literature, they invited guest speakers who were familiar with land development issues to educate them about what was happening in West Bengal. They started a blog called Development Dialogues, where they have also been diligently archiving all of the pieces published in local newspapers, national newspapers and at times in the foreign press about Singur and Nandigram. More people joined the group after the Citizens’ Silent Protest March that took place in Kolkata on 14 November 2007. After their first visit to Singur, the group members have been trying to find ways to help the affected people, particularly those in the village of Dobadi, where 95 Scheduled Cast families, landless labourers, live.
“We found out that they haven’t received anything (compensation)… most of them are now without work since they only have farming skills and most of the cultivatable land fell within the boundary walls and they weren’t being allowed to cultivate it, so we started planning doing something for them to help them generate some income for them,” Chakraborty said. At one point the group collected more than 270 kgs of rice and various other food staples from their friends and families but that was only enough for a couple of meals for them. On another occasion they set up a medical camp.
“It’s long-term reconstruction that we’re seriously interested in because it’s pretty clear to us that the CPI-M has done a pretty poor job in Singur, in Nandigram, in several other places of Bengal but the Trinamul Congress has done little less other than raise political capital out of that situation. It has not helped,” one of the group’s photographers, Amrita Dhar said. Since some of the
“If the government takes away their subsistence, it should be able to provide alternative means. If it doesn’t, it’s obviously not doing its job. To my mind it’s not compensation to say, look this factory has come up and it will give employment by the hundreds, by the thousands. What kind of employment, is my question,” Dhar said.
What the group has discovered is that only 100 acres of the land allocated for the project is being used for the factory building, the remaining acres will be used to set up a private township for the workers. They are convinced that this is why the state government chose this fertile land for the factory site, since it is only a 40-minute drive away from Kolkata, instead of fallow land in Purulia, situated much further away from the metropolis. Since the villagers outside the wall have always been farmers, they know that they would only be given menial jobs in the factory, and they have made it clear that they do not want to become servants for the factory workers.
“There are real people involved with real dreams, with real aspirations, to whom it is not enough to say that ‘Your state is developing’. It is no use to me to have my state very, very developed if I am not self-sufficient any longer when I was. If I had land, I tilled it, I had housing for my son and daughter, I was happy. Right now I have nothing and my state is very developed,” Dhar said.