Monday, August 25, 2008

First day of Mamata's dharna in Singur

The Telegraph

Shh! the siege is on
Peace on lips, paralysis on highway

Singur, Aug. 24: As the sun set over the straggly industrial skyline of Singur, Mamata Banerjee rose to her feet with peace on her lips and the power to paralyse on call.

“Our agitation will continue unless the 400 acres forcibly taken away from farmers is returned to them,” the Trinamul leader declared from a podium around 100 metres from the Tata Motors small-car factory. “I am here and our agitation will continue.”

With her torrent came an early evening shower, the sky over Singur streaked in dark clouds.

By then, the halogen lights inside the Tata plant had been turned on. But the future of the project looked dim as Mamata threatened to continue her siege unless the Tata project was trimmed to 600 acres.

Appearing unfazed by the pullout threat from the Tatas, the Trinamul Congress chief dared the group to leave Bengal. “If other states are inviting you, please go there.… But can you leave with Tata Centre? Can you leave with Tata Indicom?” she roared as the 40,000-strong crowd around podium No. 7 started thinning.


How Mamata ran the Singur show on Sunday

My turn
She kept interjecting during the six-hour session of speeches. Everyone from Medha Patkar to Amar Singh had to wait with microphones in their hands

On guard
“We are not here to break the wall. Don’t even look at the Tata plant,” she kept reminding those who tried to get closer to the complex

Most leaders sat through the programme, but not Mamata. She wound her way around the others. “You have to understand that I need to coordinate,” she explained

Sun shield
She called on people standing under the blazing sun to converge near the stage or to look for shelter or open their umbrellas

Going places
Thanking Amar Singh for his support, Mamata said her party would join the Samajwadi Party’s movements in Uttar Pradesh


The choice of vehicle for most of her supporters: Tata Sumo. Many Trinamul supporters depended on the workhorse from the Tata stable to reach the venues to lay siege to the Nano factory

Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh echoed her. “If others are calling, please go. West Bengal will say, goodbye, ta-ta,” Singh said, drawing a huge round of applause.

In sharp contrast to the bustle outside, the factory, where over 3,500 people are at work on any given day, wore a deserted look. “Sunday is a day off. Some work takes place in the morning shift, but today there is hardly any activity inside,” said a police officer.

Tomorrow, will it be possible for the workers to go inside the plant? Tata Motors officials did not want to answer the questions, though Mamata insisted that no one would be stopped from going to work.

She also preferred to label her movement “a satyagraha”. “This is a peaceful demonstration. We want peace…. No one should even look at the Tata plant.”

The promise of peace was a recurring theme during the six-hour session, which started at 2.15pm, soon after she reached the dharna site. But the siege’s potential to disrupt was on full display by the evening. As the numbers grew around the podium, traffic on Durgapur Expressway, which links Calcutta and Burdwan, came to a halt with police closing stretches of the road. Trinamul has erected 21 podiums along the expressway.

After ending the day’s proceedings, Mamata asked the 2,000-odd supporters who had stayed back for the night to lie down on the road. “No one will dare come near you,” she told them as they prepared khichudi for dinner.

People sprawled on the road, the police stopped vehicles at the three toll plazas at Asansol, Panagarh and Shaktigarh on National Highway 2. The expressway is a part of the highway.

Thousands of vehicles bound for Calcutta were being held up till late tonight. Vehicles coming towards Asansol from the north will have to be diverted through Purulia, Bankura, Midnapore and Howrah to reach Calcutta, which means the distance will double to 400km.

Those stranded at Panagarh will have to take a detour through Birbhum, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24-Parganas, adding 150km to the usual journey to Calcutta. Vehicles stuck at Shaktigarh will have to turn back about 15km to Burdwan and take GT Road to reach Howrah and Calcutta, logging an additional 50km.

Carrying Trinamul flags, supporters trickled in since early morning as a police force of over 3,000 stood on guard both inside and outside the plant. While police sources claimed that only 5,000 people had come from the affected villages in Singur, Trinamul leaders said most were from North and South 24-Parganas and East Midnapore districts.

Mamata sought to scotch the government’s reported attempt to offer alternative plots to landlosers. “There is alternative land for all the ancillary units just opposite the Tata factory, which CPM-backed promoters have bought in anticipation of huge gains. We can identify such tracts and our panchayat will help transfer them to the government, where the ancillary units can be set up,” she said.


Trinamul or CPM, anger simmers

Trinamul or CPM, anger simmers

Singur, Aug. 24: A strange irony is playing itself out in the villages of Singur.

Most villagers here don’t want the Tatas to go away. But they feel that the manner in which the land was acquired was “unfair, unjust and highhanded”.

Madan Mohan Ghosh, 47, of Bamanpara has been a CPM cardholder since 1984. His father has surrendered his half an acre for the Tata project and collected the cheque for it.

But today, Ghosh’s “heart” lies with Mamata and her siege, though he is not participating in it.

Sitting in the cowshed at his home, Ghosh, an insurance agent, said there should have been some “dialogue” with the common people whose land was taken away.

“We want industry, the Tatas are a group with a lot of goodwill but the land was acquired in such an arbitrary manner and in such a hurry that it has left a lot of bitterness here,” Ghosh said. “Despite being a die-hard CPM supporter, I feel what Mamata is doing for the farmers is right.”

Fatik Ghosh of Gopalnagar has many differences with Madan Mohan: the 45-year-old farmer is a Trinamul supporter whose father’s nearly 5 acres has been “forcibly grabbed” by the government and he has refused to collect the cheque for it.

But the differences end there: he, too, believes that ind- ustrialisation should take place, that it is good for the health of the state and that the Tatas should stay.

“We know that the Tata project will be good for Singur, there will be prosperity here and jobs around,” Fatik said. “But why should it be such a big deal to shift the ancillary units? There are several hundred acres of low-lying land at Talchanmath near Joymolla, about two minutes’ drive from the main Tata project. The farmers there would happily sell the land since it is usually covered with water and there is no farming. That would sort out the problem.”

No one is quite sure what Mamata’s sit-in will yield and whether the unwilling farmers will get their land back. But there is a general feeling that whatever is happening in Calcutta and Singur may be taking place “just a bit too late”.

Work at the Tata project has progressed too far — about 85 per cent of the work is done, according to the chief minister — and the Nano could well roll out this October.

Besides, even if the Tatas were to leave, the land would not be suitable for cultivation. At least not for now and it would cost a lot to make acres of concrete flooring yield any crop again.

“The dialogue should have started a long time back,” said law student Gautam Maity of Barwaritala. “The efforts by the government to hammer out some agreement with Mamata and the Trinamul pressure to make that happen should have taken place two years back. Trinamul’s success in the panchayat polls here has suddenly kick-started the Singur battle.”

Meetings to match siege

Singur, Aug. 24: The CPM today tried to “counter” Mamata Banerjee’s siege with more than 40 street-corner meetings in and around Singur.

“We want to convince the people that the small-car project is important for Singur. We also want to gauge the mood of the villagers who are unwilling to give up their land,” said Dibakar Das, a member of the CPM’s Hooghly district committee.

Meetings were held at Doluigachha More, Nanda Bazar, Duleypara and Bora in Singur. All the spots are 5-10km from the plant. Dankuni, Chanditala, Mogra, Dhaniakhali, Haripal and Tarakeswar were the other sites in Hooghly.

CPM workers were up at 6 this morning, putting up festoons on Delhi Road, between Dankuni and Baidyabati.

Apart from Das, MP Anil Basu, district secretariat members Balai Sabui and Benoy Dutta, district committee member Srikanta Chatterjee and zonal secretary Amar Chanda addressed the meetings.

We explained to the peo- ple that it was not possible to return 400 acres as they are an integral part of the Nano project. We also told the villagers that there were many who wanted to collect their cheques but could not because of threats from the Save Farmland Committee,” Sabui said.

The local CPM leaders had met last night at the Singur zonal committee office. “We discussed ways to convince the villagers who are yet to collect their cheques. We will go to their homes and speak to them,” Das said.

The CPM leader said: “We will ask them why they don’t want to give up their land. The door-to-door campaign will begin tomorrow.”

The Statesman

Biman hints at govt climbdown

Mamata wants Singur as model for co-existence

Soma Mookherjee
& Uday Basu
SINGUR/KOLKATA, Aug 24 : With all eyes riveted on Singur today where Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee told the biggest ever mobilisation of protesters that the state government must make the Tata small car project a model for the coexistence of industries and agriculture, CPI-M state secretary Mr Biman Bose hinted in the city, about 60 km away from the main theatre of action that the state government might finally concede the demand for return of land acquired for project to the unwilling farmers.
Mr Bose told the media that the number of such farmers and the quantum of land they owned needed first to be determined through more talks between the state government and the agitation sponsors.
“Last week the state government asked representatives of the Trinamul-led Opposition during the meeting at Writers’ Buildings to provide details about the farmers who didn't give their consent for the acquisition of their land. Fresh dialogue can be held in the next few days and I believe a solution can be found through talks,” Mr Bose said.
He made the comments when the massive mobilisation by the Trinamul and its allies made it absolutely clear that the agitation would continue till the demand for the return of 400 acres of land was met.
“The state government will place its papers and they (the Opposition) will give theirs and a solution can definitely be found to the Singur impasse,’’ Mr Bose said.
Sensing the groundswell of support for the agitation at Singur, Mr Bose even said he had no objection to a democratic and peaceful movement, while the state administration through its home secretary had for the past few days been issuing veiled threats that it won't hesitate to take stern action if the factory walls were damaged.
Miss Banerjee virtually took Singur by storm when she shared the huge dais with the Samajwadi Party general secretary, Mr Amar Singh, Ms Medha Patkar, Progressive Indira Congress leader Mr Somen Mitra, Party for Democratic Socialism state secretary, Mr Samir Putatunda and others.
She asserted that she didn't want the Tatas to move out, but the latter should honour the words they wrote to her saying they needed 600-650 acres for setting up the main plant. “Mr Ratan Tata should refrain from issuing threats at the behest of the CPI-M. The Tatas shouldn't say different things at different times. Nor should they try to blackmail the state's people. The ancillary units, which would manufacture automobile components to be sold elsewhere as well, can be set up on a sizable land across the main project site that is now held by promoters close to the CPI-M. We have asked our panchayats not to give permission for housing projects on the land. This will ensure the unwilling farmers will get back the 400 acres of land, while the project along with the vendor's park comes up,” she said. She asked the agitators to maintain peace. Mr Singh said he had made a mistake by trusting the version on Singur given by the
CPI-M leadership. He said the Singur agitation would be turned into a model for organising resistance throughout the country against indiscriminate land acquisition for industrialisation.
Mr Singh invited Miss Banerjee to take part in a similar movement in UP. He dared the CPI-M state secretary and the CM to visit Singur and “listen to the voices of the people”.
While Miss Banerjee retreated into her makeshift room, near the dharna manch, late tonight, her followers were seen reclining on the Durgapur Expressway.

Will Nano miss the deadline?

Rajib Chatterjee
SINGUR, Aug 24: Bandh culture in the state and violent agitation in Singur have fuelled speculation that Tatas wouldn’t be able to complete the construction work of the Singur small car project by October this year. Therefore, there is a possibility that Mr Ratan Tata’s dream car, the Nano, might miss its deadline scheduled for October.
On the first day of the Trinamul Congress-sponsored indefinite agitation, construction work at the project site virtually remained suspended with a large number of labourers deciding to keep them away from the project site. Police said that only 200 out of 1500 labourers turned up at the project site today while others remained absent after being allegedly threatened by a section of supporters of Singur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (SKJRC).
It was alleged that SKJRC supporters had threatened labourers with dire consequences if they dared to join work today. No complaint, however, was registered in this connection. Though Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee said they would not create any law and order trouble at Singur during the agitation, officials of private companies undertaking construction work at the project site are worried as they feel that labourers and engineers would be obstructed to enter the project site from tomorrow by the agitating farmers.
Farmers spearheading the movement at Singur said they would not resist Tata officials and labourers from entering the project site. “We want Tatas to stay at Singur. But we demand the return of our 400 acres of land that has been acquired forcefully,” Mr Manik Das, a senior SKJRC leader, said.
A senior engineer of a company involved with the construction work of the project said on conditions of anonymity that though almost 85 per cent work of the project has been completed, a lot of work still has to be done. “Only 60 per cent of the total 23 kilometre road inside the project area could be constructed till today. Work was severely affected on the day of the Citu sponsored industrial strike four days ago. Now, Trinamul Congress has started an indefinite agitation. We are concerned wether the labourers would be able to get back to their work,” he said.
According to him, only 200 workers came for work today. “Since we don't want to take any risk, we have instructed labourers not to argue with the agitators if they are prevented from entering the project area tomorrow,” he added.
Another senior engineer said if the agitation continues for more than a week, work at the project area will be totally stopped. “If trucks carrying construction materials are prevented from entering the project area, work will be seriously affected. We only have seven-days stock of construction materials,” the engineer said.
According to reports, around 90 per cent work of the factory’s paints shop, engine shop, press shop, belt shop is complete. Around 300 employees including 100 supervisor, technicians and engineers are currently monitoring the construction work of the project.
“Some Trinamul Congress supporters had entered a lodge at Baidyabati and asked workers to join the dharna today. When they refused to obey, the Trinamul Congress men threatened to drive them away from Singur,” said an engineer.