OUR EXPERIENCES IN SINGUR
(FEBRUARY – SEPTEMBER 2008)
THE CITIZENS’ INITIATIVE, KOLKATA.
1. Citizens’ Initiative 3
2. Political background of Singur since 2006 5
3. Profile of some villages 7
4. Special Economic Zone (SEZ) 8
EXTRACTS FROM OUR SINGUR NOTEBOOKS 9
TESTIMONIES OF THE PEOPLE OF SINGUR 15
1. Health 27
2. Education 28
3. Employment 28
1. The TMC’s role 29
2. The Tata Motors plant 31
Singur timeline 39
OUR EXPERIENCES IN SINGUR (FEBRUARY – SEPTEMBER 2008) BY THE CITIZENS’ INITIATIVE, KOLKATA.
The Citizens’ Initiative
We at the Citizens’ Initiative are trying to organise a continuing open discussion on the paradigms of development and the relationship, in this context, between politics and ethics. These issues, we feel, are extremely important given the kind of state-sponsored violence that people are facing all over India and particularly in West Bengal.
The group of students, researchers, and teachers that comprise the CI started out in February 2007 to debate and question the cost of development and the growing schism between ethics and contemporary political culture. Questions have also begun to arise on the naive equation of the ‘partisan’ with the ‘political’, and the brushing aside of any non-partisan civil political action as not just irrelevant, but, as in some circles it is fashionable to say, ‘anti-political.’ The role of civil society in a democracy is a subject of critical re-examination now, and it is this disregard for non-partisan opinion and the consequences of it that have led us to discuss and take more concrete actions.
We launched this initiative with a one-day seminar on 16th February 2008 on ‘Development and Ethics’, where the speakers were Dr. Dilip Simeon and Dr. Aseem Shrivastava. Dr Simeon spoke on ‘Ethics and Contemporary Political Culture’, and Dr Shrivastava’s talk was titled ‘SEZ and the Cost of Development’.
Our next event was a workshop on 5th April 2008 on the legal possibilities available to a common citizen for redress of wrongs. Mr Sabir Ahamed of the Calcutta Samaritans spoke on the Right to Information Act and Mr Sujato Bhadra of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights spoke on Public Interest Litigations.
We visited Singur nine times between February 2008 and September 2008. In this period, we have carried relief – in the form of clothes, rice and pulses – to Dobandi in Singur (in March 2008), and organised a medical camp there (on 18th May 2008 and 27th July 2008) with the help of the Centre for Care of Torture Victims. But neither of these efforts reflects our primary objectives. Our most ardent wish is to induce long-term reflection on models – and ethics – of development, and to contribute to reconstructive thought and efforts in the areas already adversely affected by the present political take on development. To this end, we have photographed, extensively, life in Singur and how it has been affected by the fencing-off of the land for the Tata Motors factory. Very few people in Kolkata have any idea of what Singur looks like, and press photographs can perhaps tell only a minuscule portion of the story. Our photographs are aimed at covering this invisible distance between the affected village and the urban centre – to put it simply, to show what development looks like in reality. We organised the event Under Development: Singur at Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre from 27th June to 2nd July 2008. The event comprised a photo exhibition of our photos from Singur, a film festival on development and a panel discussion ‘on representation of development and displacement’ where the speakers were Samik Bandyopadhyay, Kavita Punjabi and Rajarshi Dasgupta. The discussion was moderated by Paromita Chakravarti.
In July, we succeeded in taking a slideshow of our photographs to Singur. Our aim, well-fulfilled, was to enable the people of Singur to see how they were being represented by us.
In accordance with out current plans, we wish to visit schools in and around Kolkata and sensitize students about development in West Bengal and India and about the fall-out of such modes of development in places like Singur. Importantly, we intend to take the Photo Exhibition (even as it grows over time, or changes over our further visits to Singur) to other places in India, and to initiate dialogue there about Singur, development, land, political violence, etc.
However, we should stress that we have not been to Singur as unaffected photographers who are there to snatch images and leave. We plan to introduce alternative means of livelihood for people who have for generations been based in agriculture. Unhappily, the government’s promises that alternative training and employment shall be the norm rather than the exception among all peoples displaced from land and/or livelihood have been resoundingly empty. Even in our limited ways, we hope that we shall, in a few months, be able to organise training workshops in Singur on certain alternative means of livelihood.
We have two blogs: http://development-dialogues.blogspot.com and http://citizensinitiativecal.blogspot.com.
We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Political background of Singur since 2006
As soon as the seventh CPI (M)-led Left Front government was sworn in on 18th May 2006, CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee lost no time in announcing an ambitious initiative as part of the larger drive to ‘industrialise’ the state. Accompanied by Ratan Tata and a team of top executives, he announced a small-car factory to be set up by Tata Motors in Singur, Hooghly. While Ratan Tata complimented the state on its investor-friendliness, reactions on the ground at Singur were hostile – with repeated protests by villagers when different concerned people, such as a team from Tata Motors, visited the area.
While traditionally the area had been a CPI (M)-dominated one, villagers gathered under a newly formed platform ‘Krishi Jomi Rokkha Committee’ (‘Save Farmland Committee’). On 30th May, they protested in front of the state commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen. On 1st June, they assembled in the thousands for another protest in front of the Singur Block Development Officer. However, on 20th July the state went ahead with a notice for land acquisition under the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act, for a total of 997.11 acres of land.
Massive protests followed in August and September, with about 5000 people turning up for protests outside the Gopalnagar Gram Panchayat and the Singur Block Development Office. The move to acquire land was also challenged in the Kolkata High Court (this was to be later dismissed in 2008). Yet compensation cheques for land-losers began to be handed out on 25th September, with a simultaneous protest by about 10,000 villagers in which chief of the opposition party, the Trinamul Congress (henceforth TMC), Mamata Banerjee, also took part.
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was imposed, banning the assembly of more than 5 persons, and soon on 26th September the protests saw the first death, that of a 24-year old man. Around this time, the issue saw greater mainstream political mobilisation with the TMC and some supporting parties calling a 12-hour Bengal strike on 9th October; well-known social activist Medha Patkar also joined the fray and addressed a rally on 27th October at Bajemelia, Singur. Meanwhile, there were ground reports of CPI (M) cadres allegedly destroying water pumps to render arable lands unsuitable for farming. This was to set the tone for future acts of repression.
While November 2006 saw two major rallies – one on the 17th when Mamata Banerjee of TMC commenced a three-day march to Singur, the other on 19th at Bajemelia, Singur where more than 7000 villagers gathered and about 800 police personnel were deployed – the month ended with the police and CPI (M) cadres preventing Mamata from going to Singur, sparking violence across the state. Close on the heels of a statewide TMC bandh on 1st December, police and CPI (M) cadres terrorised villagers, burning houses and beating up those opposed to land acquisition. Even as Mamata went on a 25-day fast and fourteen village women from Beraberi Purbopara, Singur, started a hunger strike to protest police repression, an eighteen year-old girl who had taken part in the protests, Tapasi Malik, was found raped and burnt in the Tata factory premises. This resulted in more mainstream political mobilisation and allegations of corruption in the state police’s investigation of the case, following which the Government handed over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation in mid-January.
January 2007 saw the ceremonial commencement of the construction of the factory - even as activists cited discrepancies in official figures of the number of farmers who had allegedly given up their land voluntarily, and farmers protested the withholding of irrigation water from pumps inside the fenced-off factory area. Incidents of farmers attacking the factory fences were reported January onward, while some urban civil activism became visible with non-partisan citizens holding protests in late January in Kolkata. Incidents of police action on protesting farmers continued in February, and while the Kolkata High Court overruled the latest imposition of Section 144 by the State, it upheld the acquisition procedure as lawful. In response to this, attempts by villagers to reclaim land only increased, as did the number of suicides by those who had lost their land throughout the months leading up to the by-elections for two seats in Singur in May. Farmers repeatedly attacked the factory walls but met with violent police reactions. In June, Living and Livelihood with Human Dignity (LALHUD), a voluntary organisation found that over 90% of the villagers whose land had been forcibly acquired were severely traumatised. The CBI, in the meantime, made its first arrests for the murder of Tapasi Malik, including CPI (M) Hooghly district committee member Suhrid Dutta. Apparently unmoved by the persistent protests by farmers, in November, the state government sanctioned Rs 7.78 crore to improve drainage within the Tata factory site at the cost of possibly flooding neighbouring villages – in prompt response to this over 1,500 villagers held a rally in Singur but the troubling number of farmers’ suicides did not abate as the long year drew to a close.
On 7th January, 2008, the CPI(M) was voted out of the management of a Singur school, while almost at the same time on 10th January, Ratan Tata launched the Tata Nano in New Delhi amidst much fanfare. In addition to this, on 19th January the Calcutta High Court dismissed allegations of improper and illegal acquisition of 997 acres at Singur, causing doctors to fear that this would only aggravate the rate of suicides by affected farmers. Aggrieved by the verdict, farmers of Singur blocked the Durgapur expressway to register their protest. The panchayat elections of 2008 saw the Left Front losing all the seats in Singur in May 2008.
Buoyed by the election victory, Mamata Banerjee announced on 26th May 2008 that the 400 acres of land which belongs to unwilling farm owners who have not even collected their compensation cheques, must be returned to the farm owners. On 20th July crude bombs were hurled by farmers protesting against the factory in Singur railway station and at Mainak Lodge, a guest house where workers of the Tata Motors plant were staying. Workers coming to the Tata Motors factory were stopped and beaten up by SKJRC members. The next day, Manish Khatua, an employee of Shapoorji Pallonji working at the Tata Motors factory was beaten up by SKJRC members. On 1st August, a group of farmers forced their way into the small car project site from the Khasherbheri side and allegedly beat up several workers and seven security guards. In another incident, some construction workers and two policemen were allegedly beaten up by some supporters of SKJRC on Durgapur Expressway near the project site. The attack took place when some policemen were escorting the workers to Singur railway station. On 3rd August the TMC announced that they would set up camps for an indefinite period from 24 August all along the 4 km-long stretch on the highway in front of the Tata plant to press its demand for return of 400 acres of land acquired forcibly from farmers. Protest marches in Singur by both the Left Front and the SKJRC and the Congress preceded the commencement of the sit-in on the highway in front of the factory. The TMC carried out a sit-in from 24th August and this siege was withdrawn only on 7th September after a meeting moderated by the governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the state government agreed to allot as much land as possible from inside or near the Tata factory to some unwilling farm owners.
Profiles of some of the villages we visited:
Dobandi: Dobandi is a village of about 95 families (with, on an average, 5 members in each family), all of whom are members of the Scheduled Castes. Caste is one of the reasons for the continuing poverty of the people of Dobandi. The residents are landless farm labourers. This village is the worst hit as the land they used to work on has been taken over for the Tata Motors factory. Now, the people have to walk a long way and find work elsewhere. Even this work is at reduced wages. Previously, being farm labourers, they did not have to buy food grains as they used to take their share from the land they used to work on. Now, they have to buy food grains.
Joymollah: Joymollah is primarily a Muslim village. Whereas some families are as poor as the people of Dobandi, some are better off. As a result there are both mud houses and concrete houses. Most of the women are into hand embroidery. Some of the men are also into carpentry outside Singur. As a result, they have some sort of an alternate livelihood. The women who are into embroidery however are paid very little for their efforts. For embroidering a double-bed-sheet, they are paid Rs.40
Khaserbheri: Mostly comprising people who owned land. As a result, they have been badly affected as their only source of income has been taken away from them. They made a living somehow from their reserve stocks but now that it has run out, and they are in a very bad state. The village is better off than villages like Dobandi and Joymollah. About 30 women in this village are also into hand embroidery.
Beraberi Purbopara: Situated next to Beraberi market, this village comprises mostly families who were landowners. After the first batch of 5 families which voluntarily gave up their land, the other 195 families in this village have not agreed to give up any land at all though most of them have lost some or all of their land. Most families have some source of income other than farming, usually a job outside Singur. As a result, they have been able to continue with their lives in Singur.
Bajemelia: One of the largest villages in Singur. Tapasi Malik, an eighteen year old girl from this village, was raped and murdered within the Tata Motors premises in December 2006. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) later arrested CPI (M) Hooghly district committee member Suhrid Dutta for planning and carrying out this murder. The village has been at the forefront of the protests against the factory ever since this gruesome incident.
Ujjwal Sangha: Another village which comprises residents who are mostly members of the Scheduled Castes. This village is more prosperous than Dobandi. Ujjwal Sangha is the first village in Singur where the protests against the then proposed Tata Motors factory started.
Special Economic Zones (SEZ)
Though Singur has not officially been notified as an SEZ by the government, the Tata Motors area has been functioning as an SEZ. An SEZ as defined by the SEZ Act, 2005 is an area of land which is owned and operated by private companies and is outside the purview of several laws of the land like the Minimum Wages Act, panchayat system (SEZs have their own governing bodies), revenue duties like sales tax, income tax, service tax, etc. The Indian government plans to create about 500 SEZs across the country, more than what exists across the entire world. China, India’s model for economic growth had less than 10 SEZs and out of these all have proved unsuccessful except for the largest one – Shenzen. Whereas in China, the SEZs were built on wastelands, in India and especially in West Bengal, rich farmland like those in Singur and Nandigram have been targeted. Owing to the vast areas of land on which these SEZs are being built (997 acres in Singur and 10,000 acres had been planned in Nandigram), building SEZs will create displacement of unprecedented proportions. It is not as if these SEZs will provide local jobs for only skilled engineers will be permanently given employment at such sites. The vast areas of land in which some Indian laws will not be applicable but in their place, laws laid down by the private company owning the SEZ will prevail will make these SEZs corporate city-states. Also, the SEZ act makes it valid to allocate up to 75% of the SEZ for non-industrial purposes. As a result, the land under the SEZ can be used for real estate.
The SEZ economic policy of the Indian government is also feared to trigger mass scale food crisis in India as agricultural land is converted into industrial land.
Whereas, the CPI (M)-led government of West Bengal has been campaigning for SEZs in the state, they have been protesting against SEZs in other states. Brinda Karat of the CPI (M) has organized anti-SEZ rallies in Maharashtra. The CPI (M) is using the same points to argue against SEZs in other states which critics in West Bengal have levelled against the CPI (M) in West Bengal.
Almost all the notified SEZs in India have been protested against by the local residents as they will be displaced and be paid either miniscule compensation or none at all. State terror is being used to forcibly evict the residents on these lands and acquire such land for SEZs.
More information on SEZs can be found at
EXTRACTS FROM OUR SINGUR NOTEBOOKS
The following pages (10 -14) are a brief attempt to give you an overview of our experiences in Singur. This document makes no claims towards quantitative or statistical truth; it is an affective record of what we have seen and heard. It simply tries to give you snippets of our interactions with the villagers in Singur, our thoughts on their lives after Tata and our primary understanding/ analyses of the situation.
We would sincerely request you not to quote or make citations from these 5 pages.
However, the idea is to share and disseminate what we have experienced within the terms in which that experience can (at the moment) be framed – informal, largely unprocessed, affective, and based on personal interactions with the villagers.
We do, of course, have the audio files and video clippings (that the following conversations have been transcribed from) to support this document in our recorded archives.
From February to August, the Citizens’ Initiative has made nine visits to Singur: on 17 February, on 23-24 February, 30 March, 19th April, 18th May, 14th June, 22nd June, 27th July, and 29th August.
The purposes of these visits have been diverse – from photo-documenting to taking relief collected for the people of Dobandi. But on each of these visits we have spoken to the men and women of Dobandi, Khaserbheri, Purbopara and Joymollah. This document is a brief attempt to record these interactions.
Several of us had made notes regarding our observations during the visit/visits. Following are some of our write-ups from our first visit in February, complete in the moods and preoccupations particular to each author (which is to say, these little reports have not been subjected to any serious textual screening, and that they do not carry any editorial intervention yet). The write-ups inevitably overlap on certain grounds, but perhaps that overlapping serves to underline those areas that stood out with particular force to us.
By Trina Banerjee: 18th February, 2008.
We went to Singur on the 17th with Aseem Shrivastava, spent the day there, walked over a few kilometers and spoke to people in about five villages. We have photographs and some audio recordings.
Briefly, people in Dobandi (a village full of landless labourers just outside the factory walls) are all but starving. They are unlikely to survive without our urgent attention and relief. They have no money to buy milk for their babies, and they are fast running out of resources and food. If we want to keep these people from migrating to the city as destitutes in a few months, we have to reach out to them urgently with some relief.
Some of the local men and boys from this village have been employed as guards at the Tata factory. But they say they have not been paid their salary for four months.
Villagers in Beraberi Purbopara say that eight sacks (400 kgs) of harvested potatoes were stolen from the fields near Khaserbheri day before yesterday. This, according to the angry villagers, has hardly ever happened before. In their parlance, “before” always means before the Tata factory came up.
An 80-year-old woman in Purbopara said to me: "This is the first time in my life I am being forced to buy rationed rice. We always ate out of our own fields. We were self-sufficient"
Women in Beraberi Purbopara are making festoons with ribbons (12 festoons cost Rs 2 and are taken by vendors from the city) to try and make some money. They are also embroidering bed covers for measly returns.
Most women in Dobandi have to leave their children and infants behind all day to work in fields that are 6 to 7 km away. They leave home at 3 am everyday and walk for 3 to 4 hrs and back again at the end of the day, sometimes quite late in the evening. They are paid anything from Rs. 30 Rs. 50 per day. And this amount, the women say, is likely to go down as summer arrives. The landowners who employ the labourers know that they have no other option. Most of this money is spent on buying rice for the large families, there is little left over for anything else – even basic medicine for the sick.
The people who have been given alternative houses near Dobandi live in the middle of the field right next to a high factory wall. 8 to 10 people live in each room with no trees and no shade, and with little access to water. To me, they look like ghettos, not villages or settlements. They were flooded waist-high when it rained because the natural drainage system of the area has been damaged for good by the factory constructions. Marks of the flood waters can be seen on the walls.
Finally, the factory is built like a fortress. There are walls inside walls. It is surrounded by a moat (probably meant to carry out waste water but something that also acts as an effective deterrent to intruders) and wire fences in places. The floodlights point outwards to the fields not inwards. There are watchtowers (machas) at regular intervals; every entrance is guarded by police or local young men employed as guards.
The people are very angry. They said: “They are taking away our land, our country, our earth. They are sending a thousand policemen to uproot a few villagers.”
From the Notebook of Dibyajyoti Ghosh, Citizens’ Initiative: February, 2008.
The villagers welcome any kind of support but they want immediate results.
The landowners in Khaserbheri were better off compared to villagers in Dobandi. Some of them also work in Kolkata. Many are into carpentry.
According to most of the villagers, only 5 out of the 200 families in Beraberi Purbopara gave up their land readily and continue to be CPI (M) supporters.
The rest of the villagers say that they have not received their compensation cheques. They add that they are also not interested in compensation.
The uncompensated villagers say that even if they had the money they would not know how to spend it. Previously, they would buy more land with what they earned. Now they wouldn't know what to do.
Some people from Dobandi said they refused jobs offered by the Tata factory. Others said that they weren't offered any jobs at all.
General Observations from Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Faculty of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, Resident Researcher at Singur for Several Months from 2007to 2008: From the Notebooks of Insiya Poonawala. February, 2008.
1. At any point farmers would grow at least 3 regular crops on the land like paddy, jute, and potato. In addition to they would plant more in between, growing up to about 7 crops a year.
2. There has been a steady stream of researchers, journalists and fact finding teams coming to Singur from different parts of Bengal and other states. Individual researchers have come from other countries like Spain.
3. Attention is well-received by the villagers. They are not tired of talking to outsiders. They think that these people would perhaps do something for them.
4. This was a prosperous area on the whole. The villagers had a steady income from farms as well as from jobs as teachers and carpenters. This was the ideal combination for any family – a mix of farming and non-farming activity.
5. 5 out of 200 families gave up their lands.
6. People who have received compensation don't know what they would do with such a huge one-time amount.
7. The political affiliations are quite evenly balanced between the CPI (M) and TMC. There is some intimidation, but it is not very intense.
8. Some police presence is there in the villages and a good number is present inside the factory.
9. Villagers have no milk for themselves and their babies because they were forced to sell their cows to make ends meet. The children are highly malnourished now.
10. The highway has not actually helped the Singur farmers because, even when they did have crops to transport, they used the train, and not the road.
11. Most of the tube wells have fallen inside the Tata premises. So the neighbouring land cannot be adequately irrigated.
12. Inside the factory there is extra land for vendors (manufacturers of spare parts for the car).
13. During the monsoon this year, the factory pumped all the water that had collected in their enclosure into the neighbouring land outside. And this flooded the area beyond the factory walls.
From the notebook of Insiya Poonawala, The Citizens’ Initiative: February, 2008.
From a conversation with Tea-Shop Owner at Beraberi Bazaar:
1. Singur used to be a peaceful place and people were not very used to violence and clashes with police.
2. Two major sets of clashes took place in 2006, on 25th September and on 2nd December.
3. The villages of Dobandi and Ujjwal Sangha are worst hit. The villagers here belong to the Scheduled Castes. They were mostly land labourers who have now lost their jobs.
From a Conversation with a Dobandi Inhabitant:
1. He said he had been protesting with some other villagers against land acquisition even before the TMC came in.
2. Those left jobless after land acquisition now have to find work elsewhere outside the village. On an average they have to travel for 30 minutes to work.
3. Earlier the villagers had enough to eat.
4. Now, even the women have to work to support their families.
5. Villagers were told that these lands were not fertile. The police and the CPI (M) cadres don't let villagers re-build the tube wells that were forcefully broken.
(More of what this interviewee said is on audio.)
From a Conversation with a Dobandi Resident Now Working in a Factory in Liluah:
1. The most fertile bit of land has been taken up by the factory premises.
2. The villagers cannot differentiate between the police and CPI (M) cadres.
3. Only those who gave up their land voluntarily got compensation cheques.
4. The interviewee said that he did not ask for any compensation.
5. He said he is yet to decide if he wants compensation. He wants his land back.
6. Their tube wells were broken by force. The villagers were not allowed to repair them.
From a Conversation with a Relocated Resident:
1. The interviewee said her family had two rooms in the house that fell inside the factory premises.
2. Now five of them have been given one small room in the housing provided by the state government.
3. Her husband has been given a guard's job in the factory.
4. They have not paid him his salary for several months.
5. Tata had promised work and housing. But no compensation was discussed.
From a Conversation with another Relocated Resident:
1. Seven members of her family have been given one small room.
2. Her husband has been employed as a guard at the factory and has not been paid for 4 months. His salary was fixed at Rs. 2100 per month.
3. Only one male member from each family has been employed as a guard. They work 5 days a week in eight-hour long shifts.
4. They had a house inside the factory. They refused to give it up, but police came and broke it down.
- The Tata Motors shed is only perhaps about 10% of the entire land acquired. This emerged from discussions with locals, resident students and experts on SEZ.
- The factory’s strategic location is just off the national highway part of the Golden Quadrangle.
- The entire population can be divided into 3 sets of people:
1. Those who have lost their lands but retain their houses: we met these people mainly in the village of Dobandi. They are willing to talk openly and voice their discontent. No jobs or compensation have been offered to them as they did not give up their land willingly. Both the men and the women have to travel long distances outside the village to find employment, often leaving their children with older members of the family. Earlier, the men worked full time on fields. The women assisted them as well as looked after the children. The older children went to school and also helped with the farming.
2. Those who have lost both their lands and their houses: this is a more bitter lot, slightly reluctant to talk, and mistrustful of outsiders. The two women I spoke to were of the opinion that we would not be able to do much for them. We were there to make notes, write reports in the city, and not really do anything to change their lot.
3. Those who voluntarily gave up their land: they comprise just 5 out of the 200 families in Beraberi Purbopara. They were very reluctant to talk. They did not say much except that they have been paid their compensation. They also said that they are being paid their salaries on time. They seem to be treated like outcasts by other villagers. There is a great deal of resentment against them because they have given up their land.
From the Notebook of Amrita Dhar, Citizens’ Initiative: February, 2008.
Observations on Dobandi:
The village of Dobandi is situated to the north of the Beraberi Bazaar. It is a small one-road village, consisting of approximately 95 families, with (on an average) 5 members to each family.
It is 1 of 2 villages consisting entirely of Scheduled Caste people. (The other is Ujjwal Sangha.)
Dobandi consists entirely of landless farm labourers. The people here used to earn their living from the land, but by working on land belonging to other people. Now that the land has been taken away, they have neither land to work on, nor hope for any compensation. (In fact, landless labourers are probably entitled to 25% of the price of the land they used to work on. But they do not seem to either know or care.) For the most part, the men travel long distances every day now in order to find work. The women join them too, and this leaves the children in the care of the very old and feeble. This is no safe arrangement for either the very young or the very old, but this seems to be the only option now.
Most families who earlier on owned cows have now sold them for want of fields to graze the animals on. One major result is the lack of milk for the children. Most children in the village are thin and have an unhealthy pot-belly. Clearly, these are signs of malnutrition.
For the first time, the villagers are not self-sufficient in terms of food. They have to buy their food. It was land that used to provide them with food. Now, they have to buy food grains. Since they cannot afford to do so all the time, they have to supplement rice with ‘muri, ‘ruti’, etc.
Here are the chief areas of physical distress or discomfort at Dobandi:
Most villagers complained of cough and cold. However, this was probably the follow-through of the winter. This was perhaps also because the children did not have enough warm clothing.
Dysentery and other stomach-problems were common complaints.
Psychological and mental unease – amounting even to trauma – is apparent in most men and women; the continued uncertainty about where their next meal will come from along with the inability to provide for their children and the aged have been added to the anxiety about finding work the next day.
Women seem to have certain problems that they do not wish to express to a group consisting of both men and women.
Indications of administrative laxness include:
Several villagers in Dobandi complained of a dysfunctional dispensary and clinic at Singur (Dobandi has no clinic or dispensary). Even if and when the doctor is there for consultation, no more than prescriptions are forthcoming. Most villagers complained that the free distribution of medicines except painkillers almost never happens. Villagers also admit that they are lax about taking care of themselves, besides the fact that they often cannot afford the prescribed medicines.
TESTIMONIES OF THE PEOPLE OF SINGUR
Transcriptions from Our Audio Files: 17th February 2008
The following are a few of the transcriptions we made from audio recordings from the 17th February visit. They may serve only as indication of the kind of responses we received. Nevertheless, a fairly wide range of issues demanding urgent attention came up during these conversations. Again, the transcriptions given here have not been screened textually, but we hope the import is readily accessible in each case. The headings in bold are names of the audio files as we acquired them. Taken together, the files cover almost all the places, or all the five villages, that we visited on 17th February.
Female villager 1: Now, we do not have any land to work on. Previously, we used to make a living off the farms. But now that the land has been taken away, there is nothing we can do.
CI: What do you do now?
Female villager 1: Now we wake up at 3 am and walk for miles to find work.
CI: How many of you go to work elsewhere?
Female villager 1: Everyone in the village.
CI: When do you return?
Female villager 1: At 5 in the evening.
CI: What about the children?
Female villager 1: They have a lot of problems.
CI: Were you better off previously?
Female villager 1: Yes.
CI: What about those who have babies?
Female villager 1: They have to leave their babies behind and go to work elsewhere. They have no option.
CI: Do you work 7 days a week?
Female villager 1: Yes.
CI: Has your earning come down?
Female villager 1: Yes, a lot.
CI: How many members are there in your family?
Female villager 1: 6, including one bed-ridden person.
CI: Do the women having any specific problems?
Female villager 1: Yes, we have to wake up at 3 am, do all the household chores, work till 5pm, return home, and then again do all the household work.
CI: Do you get paid daily?
Female villager 1: Yes, I get paid Rs. 50 a day
CI: Are the men paid more?
Female villager 1: Men do not carry hay, they work in potato fields. They are paid more. They get about Rs. 70 as they work more in the fields.
CI: How would you describe life before the Tata factory?
Female villager 2: Previously, we were much better. We did not own land, but we worked as farm labourers on land that falls within the factory premises. Now, we have to wake up at about 2.30 am and walk for about 2 or 2 1/2 hours.
CI: Do you get paid daily?
Female villager 2: Yes, I get paid Rs. 40 for working in the paddy field. Now, it is the harvest season. But with less work in summer, we will get paid Rs 30 or Rs 35.
CI: Are you being paid much less now?
Female villager 2: Yes, much less. Now we get almost half of what we used to.
CI: Did they ask you when they took away the land?
Female villager 2: We do not own land. They did not ask us. Now, we find it very difficult to find food for everyone.
CI: How old are you?
Female villager 2: About 30
CI: How many children do you have?
Female villager 2: I have a 17-year-old daughter who is now married She has two sons and a daughter. They live with me.
CI: Are you having problems getting hold of food?
Female villager 2: Yes, I have mortgaged my utensils and jewellery to get hold of money. Now, my son-in-law is always drinking and refuses to work.
CI: Why did you marry off your daughter to someone like him?
Female villager 2: I did not realise that he was a drunkard. Shall I provide food for him or for the children? I have not allowed him to enter the house for four days. He is lying there, drunk.The health facility is very expensive. Last Thursday, we had to buy medicines worth Rs. 60. The doctor said that we should take the patient (a member of the family) to a better clinic. The doctor is going to come here on Monday.
CI: Was this at a hospital?
Female villager 2: No, the hospital is at Bajemelia. This was at the local medicine shop where there is also a doctor. The doctor charges Rs. 50. The patient is emitting blood along with stool.
Outraged Men 1 (in Khaserbheri)
CI: What crops do you grow?
Male Villager1: Sesame seeds, potatoes, aubergines, cabbages, onions, pumpkin, lady's finger, rice and gourd.
CI: How many crops do you grow every year?
Male Villager1: Four main crops and the rest are grown along with these main crops. We grow about twelve crops in total.
Male Villager2: Now, every year, the area outside the factory walls will be flooded.
Male Villager2: Because they will drive out the water from the 997 acres. Previously, water which used to be distributed over a larger expanse of land will now be distributed over a smaller area. So the areas outside the factory walls will be flooded much more than they used to be.
Male Villager3: Also, they have broken down our natural drainage system. So there is no way for the water to drain out. The government is telling everyone that Singur is not an extremely fertile land, that we grow one main crop a year.
CI: We heard in Dobandi that they are breaking down even the tube wells that are outside their premises so that the farmers are unable to farm.
Male Villager1: Yes, that is true.
Male Villager2: The guards of the Tata factory are stealing potatoes from our fields. They stole six sacks of potatoes (each weighing 50 kg) last night.
Male Villagers (outside Dobandi)
CI: Did the people of Dobandi previously eke out a proper living from what they earned from the fields?
Male Villager 4: Some farmers used to take lands from big landowners and take half of the profit from the land and used to give the other half to the landowner. Then there are farm labourers who work on those farmlands. The farm labourers used to get Rs. 60 or 70 daily. But now, all this has stopped. The government never thinks about the daily labourers. Now the farm labourers have to work for Rs. 30 or 40 elsewhere.
Male Villager 5: Shankar Patra committed suicide.
CI (to Male Villager 4): What work do you do?
Male Villager 4: I work in a small private company.
CI: Where do you work?
Male Villager 4: I work in Liluah.
CI: How many people are there in your family?
Male Villager 4: We are a family of four and I am the only earning member.
Kenneth: Kalipada Majhi, who died recently, didn't die solely of starvation but also of other problems related to malnutrition.
CI: What problems do you think you will face because of the factory?
Villager: We think it will be very difficult for us. We will not be able to eat. We are out of work since the land is gone.
CI: Is there no other work?
Villager: There is work on temporary basis for 2-4 days at a time.
CI: Are you thinking of going to the city in search for work?
Villager: Not at all, how do you think we would be able to manage to live and work there? Now we worry only about what we will eat for the next meal.
CI: Has any compensation offer been made yet?
Villager: No, no one has told us anything in that regard. Only those who had land are getting compensation.
CI: How many members are there in your family?
Villager: About 12 of us.
CI: And many of them have to go far away for work, is it so?
Villager: Yes, to Kamarkundu, Singur.
CI: Earlier would you (the lady in question) too work on the land?
CI: There is some infertile land. The Tatas didn’t buy that?
Villager: No only the land on which farming was done has been bought by them… Dada fell ill. There was no money to buy medicines.
CI: Is there any hospital here?
Villager: Yes, there is a Health Center here, but they don’t treat well there. They only write prescriptions. One has to buy medicines themselves. There is a hospital at Singur, in the same state.
CI: What kind of assistance is most wanted? Clothes? Food? Money?
Villager: Rice and clothes would be very useful.
[Some talk of an eye injury that one boy suffered]
Female Villager: When we visited the Health Center, we had to pay Rs. 110 as fees, plus Rs. 50 as ‘current’ charge. The boy, 26, had gone to a michhil, about a year ago, where he fell asleep. Not realizing that tear gas was being shot at them, he remained there while the others fled. He cannot do any heavy or straining work anymore.
Female Villager: It is a great problem finding work around here. We have to go about 300 m away from here. We wake up at 2 in the night to set out for work, leaving our children fast asleep. Many a times if there is no work, we have to go that far and return empty handed.
Women Embroidering, Khaserbheri
CI: How long to you take to make one of these? [Embroidery on, roughly, a 2 metre cloth]
Female Villager: It takes 2 days for something like this.
CI: So people give you the cloth for this?
Female Villager: Yes, they give cloth and the money.
CI: You have begun this work only recently, or would you do this earlier as well?
Female Villager: We have been doing this only recently.
CI: For those of you who worked on the land, how are you surviving now?
Female Villager: We are managing somehow. The girls are doing this embroidery work. It has become very difficult for us to survive. The land is gone. It was our source of food – potato, cabbage, parwals etc. We did not want to give up the land. We were coerced into it by the Police. They hit us and broke our houses as well.
CI: Our newspapers tell us that people of Singur do not want to farm any more. It isn’t correct, is it?
Female Villager: We live off our land, of course it is incorrect!
Potato farmer, Purbopara:
CI: What did they tell you first when they came asking for the land? City newspapers are wrong in saying that people here don’t want to farm anymore, isn’t it?
Male Villager: Of course. We love working on the land.
[Some joke is shared]
Male Villager: Children are learning to read and write. One of my sons is studying and the other works in Kolkata. Even those who are young wish to work on the land itself, rather than going far away to work. As long as our soil yields crops, we would want to continue working on it.
CI: How was the land taken away?
Male Villager: Countless number of policemen came with guns and tear gas, and destroyed a lot of our property.
Another Man: apart from Janashakti and Anandabazar, we do not trust any other newspaper.
[Another joke about the potato farmer’s age]
Government Housing 2
Male Villager: He that is the Minister, it’s all his, and he is the be-all-and-the-end-all of all things. When we protest against anything [the evacuation being refereed to, here], well, they kicked us in the stomach. With their boots on, they kicked us in the stomach. What can we say?
CI: He says that there are 2 parties now… and this year … CM…
Woman: If there is a flood, won’t the water stand?
[There is some discussion on the flooding and the kinds of rice that are grown. There is a very mixed jumble, too many voices]
If we have to die, we shall die, but we won’t work for them. We also belonged to the CPM party, but we don’t any longer. Now when they come to us, we too shall kick them in the chest like they did to us. We don’t believe anything they tell us any more. They shall certainly not receive any votes from us any more.
Man: Salary? What salary? When the Government pays us, I shall have my salary. Which Government? Our Buddhadeb government. Is this a Government? Is this a democracy? Indeed, the British never ruled us this much, or like this. Is this a Government, or the son of a dog? It favours only the rich and the powerful. It only says, ‘Give up your lands, and move out’.
CI: Are you still affiliated to the CPM?
Man: No, no, never. I have never voted for the CPM. Then as now. I am fighting against oppression now, and that is what I have always done. Whether you give us compensation or not, what difference does it make anymore? For the poor, what difference will it make, where we live, whether on the road or the footpath? For the blind, what difference does it make whether it is night, or day? This government is not of the poor, it is of the rich and mighty. We were serving rice. Lunch, for the kids – they would come in after their bath and have lunch. They started kicking us out then. Some one and a half thousand police came to evacuate us, to make us leave. The pots of water theta were standing on the floor, they kicked and overturned those. And these, here, are my children. This is my younger daughter. They cry for food.
CI: Do you go to work everyday?
Man No, as they never paid me, I didn’t go to work. I don’t want that work. I am not going to do that work. I am not interested.
CI: But you have enrolled for the work…?
Man: Name? O, but so what? Does that mean I have sold my head and soul to them? I am willing to work…
CI: Are there many like you, who have enrolled this way?
Man: Yes. Some of them go, some don’t…
CI: Did you go for all four months? You haven’t been going for the last fifteen days…?
Man: I haven’t been going for the last fifteen days. Two months passed, with no salary. I have six in my family who depend entirely on me. I have to find some other way to feed my family.
CI: Did you go everyday at the outset?
Man: Yes. I have been going for a year.
CI: Are they teaching any skills/work to any of the people here?
Man: No. Yes, sometimes, maybe. We hear of training centers in Belur Math. Those that they do take for such training are the people with contacts. The ones who are taken are sons of the leaders, the local CPI (M) leaders, for instance, or their relations. The poor are not taken. Neither are those without such contacts. And when there is unrest and fighting, then they call us. They tell us, ‘Go forward, onward!’ They then give the poor 5 kilos of rice, 5 kilos of dal, a shirt, a blanket, and then they say, ‘Come on, take up your staffs, your sticks, onward!’ And then, fed, we go with them. For those few meals, however little that is. And those who have to take advantage of the situation, well, they go ahead and do just that from the side. If anyone wants to go out and speak the truth, they remove them right from the face of the earth. Then they think that now the dumb can speak, and the blind can see. They want to remove them right from the face of the earth, then.
Another man [who has been hearing all of this so far, in encouragement to the first man]: Long live. Well said!
[Confused sounds. General complains, more in mood than in actual words.]
CI: Has your income decreased greatly, since the work on the land has stopped?
Woman: Yes, enormously. Now we work from day to day, and at reduced wages. How can we buy two and a half kilos of rice? We never had to this before. Now we have to buy, at great prices, and yet have to supplement the rice with muri, ruti…
CI: So they [people who belong to the CPM] only make a show of resistance now, do they?
Man: Yes. If they really resist, won’t they have to give up their cushions there with the Tatas?
CI: Are all of you in the Trinamul now?
Man: No, not all, no. But the thing is, when someone gets deeply hurt, don’t they even have to forget his parents? When people get hurt after alliance with one party, they choose the opposition to that party, do they not? The land is ours by birth and work. If one takes away that land from us, how are we supposed to feel? They who earlier on assured us of land, who taught us to fight for it, they are now taking our land away from us…
[They talk of history, of the Tebhaga Andolan very close to here, and how the CPI (M) came to power in the first place. Trina explains this, probably to Aseem.]
Look at the Gujarat case. Who knows exactly what happened between the Hindus and the Muslims there? And they started spreading the news here that they [the Hindus] were killing off the Muslims. That the BJP Government is killing off the Muslims. When they have these big processions [michhils], do they consist of people from our place? They [the CPI (M)] bring in people from the Bankura and Bardhaman districts against pay. They are paid about Rs 70 per day. These are people who are daily labourers. If one attends these meetings, one has to pay Rs 100. If one doesn’t, one has to pay Rs 200.
Exchange with Aseem Shrivastava and Kenneth Bo Nielsen
CI: Is the extra land for vendors?
Kenneth: Yes. Inside, you will find a much higher wall and inside the real factory is coming up. I have never tried going inside. They have speeded up the construction only recently. The whole area was flooded till October 2007. They only started building properly since then.
Aseem: The whole area is so large that I doubt whether the factory will occupy the entire area. A large area will be leased out to vendors.
CI: So, there will be a self-sufficient city with vendors, the factory and the residential area.
Aseem: There are provisions within the SEZ Act which make it difficult for the Indian constitution and the Indian Penal Code to function within the SEZs.
Tea shop outside Dobandi
Man: I used to previously farm within the factory premises. They even forcefully took away my harvest. My ancestors were also farmers. They never made me a ‘borga’.
CI: How long have you been protesting?
Man: From the beginning, when the Trinamul Congress hadn’t come here. We went to Ujjwal Sangha with 50-60 people. Then the Trinamul Congress came and we had a meeting at the school premises.
CI: What’s happening now?
Man: It’s difficult to sustain ourselves now. The poorest and most hard-working people live in Dobandi. We go to work far away. We have to walk for 20-30 minutes to reach our workplace. I am working but not many people in our village have much work.
CI: Were you offered any compensation?
CI: Were you threatened?
Man: The police threatened us. The police said you will get some money, leave the land. We refused. There was a lot of trouble regarding this.
CI: When was this?
Man: This was before the takeover started. 7-8 months before that.
CI: How much land did you farm on?
Man: 5-6 bighas. Now the village is almost deserted because everyone has gone to work.
CI: Even the women?
Man: Yes, they have to work now as well. Previously they did not have to. They have broken down our deep tube wells.
CI: Yes, I read it in the newspapers in September.
Man: They said that this land is not for farming and so they broke them down.
CI: Who did it, the police?
Man: No, government people. They said it was unfertile land and so they broke them down.Now we harvested potatoes. We have four main crops and the rest are sown in between these main crops. These subsidiary crops take about 6 weeks to grow. We have about 12 crops a year in total.
CI: How much do you get for potatoes?
Man: About Rs 200, Rs 225 for 50 kg.
Another Man: (explains the main crop and subsidiary crop method) As is being reported in the newspapers, the tube wells were broken down ‘in the darkness of the night’.
Tea shop outside Dobandi 2
CI: Did the CPI (M) cadres create any problem?
Villager: How will we know who is a cadre? The cadres wear police uniforms. All of them are outsiders. How will we know outsiders?
CI: Does the CPI (M) have any stronghold over here in Dobandi like they have in Bajemelia?
Villager: No, they have it in Bajemelia but not over here.
CI: Have any of you got compensation cheques?
Villager: Those who gave up the land voluntarily, only they will get cheques but only some of them have got cheques, not all.
CI: Did you have land inside?
Villager: I had one bigha inside.
CI: Have any of you spoken to people from Nandigram?
Villager: We had planned to go to Nandigram but didn’t.
CI: If you are offered compensation now, will you take it?
Villager: No. The land was more important to me. Suppose I sold the land to someone nearby, I could buy the land back again if I had money. Now, I can never get back this land. Previously, we could buy and sell it for Rs 40,000 per bigha. Now, the price is Rs 4 lakhs.
CI: We, city-dwellers, are told that the farmers do not want to farm any longer because farming is no longer profitable. Is this true?
Villager: No, only those who have got other jobs do not farm. All other farmers want to farm.
Some people from the TATAs came and told us once that they will make roads for us and make permanent houses but they didn’t do anything. They didn’t give us anything. Nor did we get anything in writing. Who knows, maybe they would have broken down our old houses but not given us new permanent ones?
CI: Do you trust the government and the TATAs?
Widowed Woman, Purbopara (Testimony, Video File: 19th April 2008)
Her husband’s shop near the highway was looted completely more than once in 2007. All complaints to the local police were made to no avail. The family was reduced to severe poverty. Her husband committed suicide in desperation. She suspects that the repeated looting and destruction of the shop happened because their family supported the TMC and participated in the protests against the land acquisition.
Woman: Yes, there are 300 to 400 policemen still here. Yes, they have reduced in number a little now…but they are still here.
CI: Were the police here when your shop was looted?
Woman: Yes, they said: ‘How can we help it if things were stolen? You should have kept watch. When I came back after having met the police and other people who are stationed nearby the shop, my son said I shouldn’t have gone and faced so many people alone. I told my son I had just gone to ask what had happened. I needed to ask them how the theft could have happened when so many people are present nearby.
CI: So what was their answer?
Woman: They said we can not tell you how it happened. We do not know. My son told me they are lying. He said it must be them who had organised the thefts. During the nights, he said, they would break down and steal everything in the shop. That is what my son said. There are two shops next to our’s. Those were left intact. I asked them how this was so and why those had not been affected. The thing is that the people who own these shops have not been part of the protests or the struggles. They vote for CPI (M). It is because we are TMC supporters and we take part in the protests that our shops were looted. We didn’t have our own land, we were labourers on other people’s lands. But we had the shop and we made enough to last us the whole year.
CI: What about the other shops next to yours?
Woman: Oh, nothing happened to them. They are still there. Just go and see. The two adjacent shops are there, only our’s is broken down. It’s just here, near the highway.
CI: How long ago was this?
Woman: My husband killed himself three months back.
CI: How old was he?
Woman: He was fifty.
CI: How many children do you have?
Woman: I have one son and two daughters. This is my daughter-in-law. He was married two years ago.
CI: How do you get by now?
Woman: With whatever my son earns. He makes grills, but only gets about Rs. 50/- a day and that too only when there is work. My daughter in law has recently had a baby, then there is my daughter. The younger one used to study before this. But in all this trouble, she has had to leave. It is not enough.
CI: She is not going to school anymore?
Woman: No, how can she? All these problems.
CI: Which class was she in?
Woman: She was in Class seven. There is no money for tuitions. And if we cannot afford the extra help, then how will she pass the exams? She said there was no point in going to school anymore, so she stopped.
CI: So she has left school?
Woman: Yes. My son has not gone to work today. You work all day and get only Rs. 50/-. He said he will not go. He has to go early in the mornings and only returns at seven in the evening.
CI: So this is all the earning you have for the whole family?
Woman: Yes. Six of us and fifty rupees a day.
CI: Did you lodge a formal complaint about your shop being broken down?
Woman: Yes, I did. We complained to the police. Then didi (Mamata Banerjee) came. She came and saw our shop. She said it is very sad it has happened twice but it probably will not happen again. Right after that, it was stripped bare again. Everything was stolen. Thrice we rebuilt it, thrice it was destroyed. Didi had said that it was happening for political reasons.
CI: You haven’t been offered any sort of compensation for this repeated looting?
Woman: No, none at all. Look at our house. It’s almost falling down. The monsoons are coming. I don’t know what is going to happen. We will be flooded soon. What do we do with the little money we get? Do we eat or repair the house? I don’t know. Then the older daughter has to be married off.
CI: We are students. We don’t have very much money. This is the fourth time we are coming here. We are trying very hard that the news from here reaches the cities. What kind of work do you think would be helpful for you? Is there anyone else besides your son who can work in your family?
Woman: Who else is their besides my son? There is no one. My daughter … she has studied a bit, but not much.
CI: Have you received any information about the central government’s NREGA scheme from the local panchayat or from your leaders?
Woman: No we haven’t got any news.
CI: You haven’t heard of job cards either?
Woman: No. But we have had applied for the BPL card this time. We haven’t got it yet. But we haven’t heard of job cards.
(CI explains the NREGA scheme.)
CI: You should have received news of this. But you haven’t.
Woman: No, we have absolutely no news.
OUR OBSERVATIONS AND COMMENTS
Most children in Dobandi have potbellies, suggesting worms and protein deficiency. While the former is a result of lack of sanitation and hygiene because of crammed living space and lack of toilets, the latter is probably because of increasing paucity of the right food – and milk – for the children. Before the landless labourers of Dobandi lost their livelihood, most families owned a cow or two. Maintenance was easy, as the animals were fed from farm by-products. After they lost their jobs, inability to afford the upkeep of the cows and need for money, forced most families to sell their animals. Now, obviously, the milk of the cows is no longer available for the children, and they are deprived of what was an easy and accessible source of nutrition. They have to buy their food. As long as the land was there for the tilling, it was the land that provided them with food. Now, they have to buy food grains.
Here are the chief areas of physical distress or discomfort we have noted among the people of Dobandi:
1. Most villagers were probably anaemic.
2. Dysentery and other stomach-problems seem to be common.
3. Most villagers, particularly children, are very thin and severely undernourished. Most children have a pot-belly.
4. Psychological and mental unease – amounting even to trauma – is apparent in most men and women; the continued tenterhooks of not knowing where their next meal shall come from, of being unable to provide for their children and for the aged, of wondering where to find work the next day.
Among indications of administrative laxness are:
1. Several villagers complained of a dysfunctional dispensary and clinic. Even if and when the doctor is there for consultation, no more than prescriptions are forthcoming. Most villagers complained that the free distribution of medicines almost never happens outside of the distribution of painkillers, etc. Villagers admit that they are lax, this way, about looking after themselves, because they often cannot afford the medicines prescribed to them.
2. The doctors of Centre for Care of Torture Victims with whom we had organised a medical camp on 18th May 2008 and again on 27th July 2008 say that one of the biggest health problems in Dobandi is the lack of toilets for defecation. The exposed faeces obviously lead to worms. There are three tube-wells in Dobandi and two bathrooms (strictly bathrooms, not meant for defecation). Besides health problems, the practice of going to the fields to defecate also has other hazards. Tapasi Malik’s rape and murder was occasioned by it.
The panchayat was till 2008 dominated by the CPI (M). Money is allocated to the panchayat for construction of toilets. Now that the TMC has won all 10 seats in Singur, Citizens’ Initiative plans to take up the matter with the panchayat.
The Beraberi Ramakrishna Vivekananda Sevasram Balika Vidyalaya lies unused for the greater part of the year. It is only one of the many schools in Singur that suffer from paucity of regular teachers. But today, even where schools are functional in Singur, there is an altogether different kind of challenge facing the education of the young. Residents of villages most acutely hit by the land-acquisition say that increasingly, older children are dropping out of school simply because their families need them to work in order to ensure food for the family. And there are others who say, simply, that they cannot anymore afford to send their children to school because even a minimal fee is now beyond their means to pay.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) under the NREGA 2005 assures every adult member of any rural household willing to do unskilled manual work one hundred days of employment in every financial year at the statutory minimum wage. Most adult residents of Dobandi have NREGS job cards, yet, on an average no one has received paid work for more than 7 days. Demand for 100 days of work from the authorities has been met with the dodge that there are no work openings available. While most people have not received any work at all, those who have tell yet another story – that in many cases, the amount of work they were expected to do in a day was not such that was normally humanly possible for someone used to farming only and not used to other forms of manual labour (it would ordinarily take 2-3 days for one person to do that quantum of work, for instance. Also, the NREGS enforcers made the people dig a quantum of earth and carry that earth whereas the said quantum of earth needed to be dug only if the earth was not carried. A much lesser quantum of earth was required to be dug if the earth was carried), and that that inability has often translated, come pay-time, to a claim that the work has not been done to requirement, and therefore is undeserving of pay and also that the worker is unskilled and hence cannot be given any further work.
Only some villages in Singur had NREGS cards. These were largely due to the efforts of the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samiti, an NGO. The West Bengal government has made little attempt to get NREGS cards for the villagers of Singur. Most adults in the village of Dobandi had NREGS cards, whereas people in Joymollah did not. The people in Joymollah had BPL cards though (whereas people in Dobandi did not). However, curiously while some members of a family had a BPL card, some others in the family had a below poverty-level card. In one case, in a family where everyone had BPL cards, the sole exception was the youngest child who had an above poverty-level card.
People in Khasherbheri complained that while some people had submitted their NREGS application forms, they did not know and were not told about the counterfoil and nor were they issued the NREGS cards. On demanding the application back (after more than the stipulated time within which the cards are supposed to be issued) so that they could re-apply, they were told that since the previous application was pending, a new application could not be made.
The TMC’s role
The Singur block had been a CPI (M) stronghold till the 2008 panchayat elections in West Bengal. 7 out of the 10 seats in the Singur panchayat belonged to the CPI(M) while 3 were held by the opposition, the TMC. A fierce campaign ensued on part of both parties. While the CPI(M) wished to keep its previous number of seats intact, if not more, the TMC found issues in this year’s panchayat election that were not there the last time. The fury of the people of Singur who lost their jobs and means of livelihood due to the creation of the Tata Motors factory site was seen as a major issue during the panchayat elections.
Ever since the announcement of Tata Motors factory site in Singur (incidentally the same day as the announcement of the 2006 assembly election results where the TMC lost out miserably to its opponents), Mamata Banerjee, leader of the TMC, has been campaigning and protesting against such a move of the West Bengal government. Just before the elections in 2008, the urgency of this issue was stepped up by the TMC.
Several landowners in Singur have not collected their compensation cheques that were offered to them by the Government. In Beraberi Purbopara, out of a total of 200 families that lost their land, only 5 have voluntarily given up their land and claimed compensation from the government. These families were never fully depended on their land for their earning, but had one family member, at least, working in the city.
The rest who did not willingly give up their land, but were offered compensation, refused to collect their cheques. This was a gesture of protest with a further claim that they want, not compensation, but their land back.
This sentiment has been fuelled by the TMC, who has been fighting with the land owners to get them their land back. However, they are consistently still being advised not to take their compensation cheques, while the TMC still campaigns for the return of the land. It is a move by the party to keep a victimised population, by giving them the hope that their land can still be got back if they keep fighting for it. But in truth the land can never be got lack, as it has been unconditionally leased out for 99 years to the Tatas, whose workers are labouring round-the-clock to build sheds. The land is being cemented in order to do so, so that now even if the land is returned to the farmers, it will be forever unfit for cultivation.
The campaign of the TMC therefore is a futile attempt, because the leaders of the party know it as well as the farmers that the land will serve no agricultural use in the future. But this is an important gesture by the party because it shows that the TMC is indeed concerned about the loss of land that the people of Singur have suffered, and is fighting for the return of the land.
The TMC, during the course of its 2008 panchayat elections campaign has also provided some services, like the building of pucca roads just outside the villages of Dobandi and Khaserbheri. For this, however, external labour was engaged rather than the villagers themselves, who are now out of jobs and could have worked. While the road itself was built in order to appease the villagers and to show that the TMC had been working for their welfare, there was no attempt to redress and real problems by the party such as the lack of employment opportunities. The TMC has indeed tried to keep a victim population which forms an ideal vote-base rather than an independent and liberated lot of people.
After the panchayat elections of 2008, which the TMC won convincingly in Singur, the Beraberi panchayat has shown no initiative to step up work on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Instead, it is quite satisfied in letting the people of the worst-affected villages like Dobandi work inside the Tata Motors factory. While for villages like Dobandi, any sort of work is necessary, the panchayat has shown signs of being sort of satisfied with the people having some sort of jobs on their hands (even if it is irregular work like unloading trucks once every few days for which some get paid Rs.40 or Rs.50) and the TMC has not taken any concrete steps to ensure proper employment through channels such as the NREGS.
The Tata Motors plant
The 997 acres that the government allowed the Tatas to choose start right from the highway (the Dankuni-Durgapur highway part of NH 2). The Tatas are not improving the infrastructure of the area in any way but rather they are tapping into an already existing infrastructure. Being right next to the highway and being so close to Kolkata, Singur provides a ready-made zone for the Tatas.
Though the land has been marked as a plant covering 997 acres, the car plant will not occupy the entire 997 acres. Whereas the small-car plant will only occupy a fraction of the area, the rest is earmarked for vendors and ancillary units. Also, residential quarters and club houses for the employees of the plant will occupy a large part of the 997 acres. Since it functions almost like an SEZ and every SEZ Authority will be made up of the Development Commissioner, three officers of the Central government and two representatives of the private developer, that is, the Tatas, there will be no elected local government drawn from state legislatures, town councils or local panchayats. Internal security in the plant will also be maintained by the TATAs. The TATA Motors plant will be a corporate city-state and it is also feared that a large part of the 997 acres will be used for real estate – housing and shopping malls. It is not as if the entire 997 acres will be used for industry.
The Tata plant has been advertised both by the CPI (M) government and the Tatas as a site for providing employment to thousands of young people. The official promise was to provide employment to 2,000 people initially and ultimately to 10,000 people. However, it is feared that as with any SEZ, the employees will be well-educated city-people rather than farmers. Also, the only kinds of jobs the villagers will ultimately get will be menial jobs – the women will get work as house-maids. Some of the women of Dobandi we had spoken to had also said the same – that while as farmers, one lives with a certain kind of dignity, working as a maid-servant is considered derogatory.
The few people from Singur, who have accepted work within the Tata factory, work as either guards or as labourers who help unload trucks and move materials. The pay is extremely irregular. Employees get paid once in several months (and not for all the months but for one month). One person showed us his bank pass book and he had received his salary for January 2008 on 18th May 2008.
The Tata plant, it is conjectured, will not provide jobs to the farmers of Singur except for jobs such as domestic servants and construction labourers. Even the construction that has gone on so far has largely employed the labour force from outside Singur. It is not only because the people of Singur are morally against the Tata factory and are hence unwilling to work within the factory but also because better skilled workers have been brought in from outside Singur.
1. All moves to acquire land for industry should be preceded by detailed dialogue with the owners and users (including traditional users such as sharecroppers and landless farm labourers) of the land, and the entire process should be based on consensus; force must be eschewed.
2. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 should be amended so as to ensure that the government cannot take away anyone’s property without the consent of the property owner. Also, the property owner should be compensated taking into account the value of the land over the years and its future potential. Meanwhile, the state government can create a separate state law on land acquisition which takes into account these factors. As the Supreme Court has said, the state law shall take precedence over the central law.
3. The SEZ Act should be amended so that no tax benefits are given to the large corporate houses and neither should the SEZ area be subject to its own laws but shall be under the jurisdiction of the local government organisations such as panchayats and municipal corporations.
4. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) should be implemented fully so as to ensure that every willing adult resident gets at least 100 days of work at the minimum wage of Rs.75. All villages should be covered under this scheme.
5. The health facilities in Singur (such as primary health centres and hospitals) should be made to function properly on all weekdays and the medicines which are listed as free should also be distributed to the patients. The list of medicines which are distributed for free should be expanded as it was before and not gradually reduced.
6. Concrete steps must be taken to ensure proper sanitation facilities for the disposal of solid and liquid waste.
7. Ensure that land is not acquired forcibly again, and any means of coercion such as brutalities by either the police or the cadres of the ruling party are not used.
8. While working out compensation for the land, compensation must also be paid to the daily labourers who worked on the land (ie, the landless farm labourers) and migrant labourers who made their living off the land. For instance, people in Dobandi who are landless farm labourers should be paid 25% of the compensation paid to the land owner, as was advertised by the state government. 9. For agricultural workers (especially women who have lost the most employment as per the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity study) compensation in terms of minimum wages should be given for the number of days of employment that they have lost work in the past two years, since December 2006. This amounts to 600 days or Rs.45000 per agricultural worker. (PBKMS)
10. The amount of compensation for all should be equivalent to the current real estate value of the land at the time of payment. Further, the compensation should include shares in the company for all dislocated people.
11. Instead of acquiring large tracts of land in one place and that too fertile land, sick industries should be revived and land should only be allotted in infertile areas.
12. For the 10-12 families who have been displaced by the project (their houses fell within the factory site) and have been resettled in Dobandi, should be given title-deeds of the houses that they are occupying now. These people were promised water supplies. These have not been provided and must be provided immediately. They must also have sanitation facilities, drainage and other facilities that will make their present house site inhabitable along with compensation for the problems caused by dislocation. (PBKMS)
13. People who have been employed within the factory (even as guards or contract labourers), should be paid regular wages and on time (monthly at least, if not weekly or daily). They should be given proper contracts with all the security benefits of a permanent job.
14. Titles to homestead land must be given to the agricultural workers in Dobandi and in other hamlets in Singur who do not even have land rights to their homes at present. (PBKMS)
15. The Tatas should stick to fulfilling the promises that they made such as training women in various activities that will help them generate an alternative mode of income and also set up community centres, primary health care units, supporting primary and secondary schools.
16. Strong environmental safeguards should be put in place in order to ensure that agriculture can flourish in Singur and surrounding areas. Also, there must be very strict monitoring of these safeguards being followed by the Panchayats and local farmers' committees. (PBKMS)
17. Adequate compensation should be given to those who have lost their family members and to those who have been hurt in police violence. (PBKMS)
18. In future, industrialisation will be done only if it is a means of developing an area and not of pauperising its people, and that costs of industrialisation must be clearly measured, not just in terms of loss of land of land owners, but also in terms of loss of livelihood to all the rural poor who live there; that industry must build incrementally on the skills and resources already available in an area; and that it must lead the development of an area as a whole. (PBKMS)
19. A land use map for West Bengal will be brought out, demarcating zones for agricultural land, forests and water bodies and that only certain limited areas, after ensuring least displacement and least environmental disturbance, will be used for industry. (PBKMS)
20. Informed debate in the Gram Sansad must precede the setting up of any project in an area that involves large changes in land use there, and that the Gram Sansad's decisions in this regard must be binding on the State Government and any other sanctioning authority that is bringing in the new project. (PBKMS)
21. Adequate compensation should be given for loss of income since December 2006 to all affected families Land must also be restored to its previous condition and made fit for agriculture. (PBKMS)
(This section includes some of the recommendations/demands of the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity that we strongly agree with.)
When we began to write the conclusion to this report, many of us felt that we were not equipped. We are not economists trained to make an informed decision about whether we would prefer industry to agriculture or vice versa (if that indeed is the proposed binary) or to predict accurately what the effects of our choice today would be in the long run. However, we believed that the opinions generated in us by our experience have some value.
But we do know a few things about the situation on the ground. We have found out some things on our own in the last seven months. We have, as citizens, gone and seen for ourselves things the mainstream media did not show us. We have tried to understand things with common sense, logic and an open mind, tried to keep ourselves unbiased, tried to protect our non-partisan identity at all costs.
We were in Singur at a time when it had disappeared from newspapers and television channels. We were there on ordinary days, trying to record people’s day to day lives. What we saw there seemed to us to be absolutely insupportable and more importantly, unsustainable. Our common sense told us this could not go on indefinitely. Something would have to give.
It is true that we cannot yet see the benefits of the Tata factory that are being predicted (we concede that there is the possibility that in some distant future they may turn out to be real for some) but it is a fact that we have seen, clearly and with our own eyes, the costs. And they are not such that can be ignored or brushed aside.
We are sorry but the ‘collateral damage’ argument simply does not work for us. Our common sense balks at the suggestion that such suffering is necessary.
We wish to ask who possesses the actual spreadsheet for costs and benefits of this industrialisation. Do the two sides really balance out? Even if we accepted for a moment the ‘necessary costs’ argument [i.e. conceded that industrialisation has always (in Europe, where it began and elsewhere) happened at great initial cost (even sometimes at the barrel of the gun, as in Nandigram), it has inevitably damaged certain kinds of human community, has for centuries caused environmental disasters and must therefore forever continue to happen in the same way], who would provide us with a guarantee that in Singur (and in other places like it) the long term losses are outweighed by the long term gains?
If this is ‘necessary’ damage let there be a proper stock taking of this necessity.
The question of Tata or no Tata in West Bengal comes usually down in conversation to a question of agriculture vs. industry, of being pro- or anti-progress. “Progress” in this popular register is equated entirely with “development”, as understood from the perspective of almost two decades of an aggressively “liberalised” economy and for the benefit of a state that has often been deemed unfit for industrial progress.
It is this oft repeated binary that we wish to stand against. We believe that it is intrinsically damaging, to the intellect, to clear thinking; that it effectively obscures the real questions and ultimately helps those who wish to make immediate political (read partisan) capital out of the crisis.
One of the justifications for the damages caused by Tata project (besides the purely consumerist justification of the cheap car as an easily accessible product for the urban middle class) is the number of jobs that the factory will generate. No one really seems to have a clear estimate of exactly how many and what kind of jobs these are, what section of the population of Singur or the surrounding areas maybe effectively employed in or around the factory. In our experience, the skilled construction labour in the area is not from Singur for the simple reason that in most of the affected villages people only know agriculture. Though sometimes a few of the villagers were employed on a day to day basis for unskilled work like carrying loads and digging soil, in most cases, they lost their jobs in a day because of the impossible amount of work piled on them. In many cases, they were not paid as promised. The only long term employment that the local youth has seen in the past months is work as factory guards. Here too, most of the guards come from other parts of the state, and even country. In many cases (as the testimonies state), they had not been paid for months on end. Once the construction of the factory is completed, of course, all these jobs are liable to disappear and unskilled labour of the kind available in the surrounding villages will be less and less in demand. Have the people who argue for employment generation any concrete estimate of what kind of skills will be required for the people working in the factory long term? What are the real possibilities of people from the villages of Dobandi or Beraberi (who know nothing but farming) finding an alternative source of livelihood in and around the factory? If there are meagre possibilities of long term rehabilitation, what then happens to these rural agricultural communities now left without livelihood or subsistence?
It is all very well to speak of ‘necessary costs’, but does accepting industrialisation mean accepting it at any cost, no questions asked, without whys and hows and wherefores, accepting it just as it is handed down to us, without demanding even a reasonable amount of accountability from those who deign to invest in the state of West Bengal? This seems like a sad and rather desperate bargain to strike for a state that is backward in industry, but undeniably and impossibly fertile.
The logic then is this - to minimise a weakness you strike a bargain that also minimises your biggest strength. You say that this is simply, well, necessary. And in doing so, you destroy the most fertile tracts of land in the state by cementing its topsoil, filling it up with sand, stone chips, destroying the deep tube wells in the area, damaging the natural drainage system and making the place unfit for cultivation for a long long time to come.
There are several villages in the area which were, so far, self-sufficient in terms of the food. They produced enough to feed themselves and their families, and managed to sell what was leftover for good prices. You take away their self-sufficiency, leave them poverty striken, promising them jobs that just do not seem to materialise.
Compensation is offered but the question of consent simply does not seem to arise.
There are many things that could have been done to ‘develop’ the area. For example, you could have made sure that the high-school children did not drop out for a lack of textbooks, that the primary health centre functioned properly and provided the medicines they are supposed to distribute, that the Panchayat took care that schemes like the NREGA were working.
But no, none of these were done to ‘develop’ Singur. What the place needed more than anything else was a small car factory. And in order to build this factory, the biggest employment generator in the area – cultivation – is systematically damaged.
We are not economists, but yes, our common sense falters here.
If the long term goal and the justification for all this is the ‘greater good’ of all i.e. the state then yes, we concede that there maybe people far more far-sighted than us. But we would still like to know the exact accounts, the logbooks that meticulously record these predictions for the industrial future of the state and exactly how many people would benefit to the detriment of how many others.
We would also like to be assured that loss (perhaps forever) of ultra-fertile top-soil and multiple food crops a year would be balanced exactly by the amount of employment generated in other sectors by the Tata factory. We would also like to know whether or not this same logical process carried through in other parts of the state (opening out more and more prime agricultural land to possible investors without setting our own terms) would ultimately lead to food shortage in West Bengal. If that is a possibility, in just how many years would that happen?
These are common sense questions, layman’s questions about the deeper structures of capitalist ‘trickle down’ economics.
But yes we need to ask them nonetheless before we concede willingly to the idea that the damages we saw in Singur are ‘necessary.’
Because after all, come what may, one can’t eat a car.
Two or three other things concern us. First, the laws of the land, which have made it possible to carry out such ‘necessary damage’ with impunity not just in West Bengal but in different parts of India. The Land Acquisition Act of 1894, a colonial legacy, was last modified in 1985, when we suppose the following sections were suitably reviewed and left in:
5A. Hearing of objections. - (1) Any person interested in any land which has been notified under section 4, sub-section (1), as being needed or likely to be needed for a public purpose or for a Company may, [within thirty days from the date of the publication of the notification], object to the acquisition of the land or of any land in the locality, as the case may be. (2) Every objection under sub-section (1) shall be made to the Collector in writing, and the Collector shall give the objector an opportunity of being heard [in person or by any person authorized by him in this behalf] or by pleader and shall, after hearing all such objections and after making such further inquiry, if any, as he thinks necessary, [either make a report in respect of the land which has been notified under section 4, sub-section (1), or make different reports in respect of different parcels of such land, to the appropriate Government, containing his recommendations on the objections, together with the record of the proceedings held by him, for the decision of that Government]. The decision of the [appropriate Government] on the objections shall be final.
Technically then, any piece of land could be acquired under this law by the Government for a ‘public purpose’ or in some cases for private companies. Under PART VII titled ACQUISITION OF LAND FOR COMPANIES the law states, amongst other things:
(a) that the purpose of the acquisition is to obtain land for the erection of dwelling houses for workmen employed by the Company or for the provision of amenities directly connected therewith,
40 B. (b) that such acquisition is needed for the construction of some work, and that such work is likely to prove useful to the public].
44B. Land not to be acquired under this Part except for certain purpose for private companies other than Government companies. - Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, no land shall be acquired under this Part, except for the purpose mentioned in clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 40, for a private company, which is not a Government company.
Once again, like we are not economists, we are not lawyers. And it has been a while since the High Court has deemed the acquisition legal under the provisions of this act. But to our layman’s understanding, once again, certain things seem amiss. Even if we were to accept the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 as perfectly acceptable and not archaic/colonial at all, what about this – “such acquisition is needed for the construction of some work, and that such work is likely to prove useful to the public.” How have ‘public’ and ‘useful’ been defined in this context?
Moving on, technically then, under this law, it would be possible for the government to acquire any piece of land in the state for a new company and its decision would be final. But urban middle class areas never appear in our imagination when we speak of land acquisition, for various practical reasons no doubt. The government could never raze an upper middle class residential urban locality to the ground to build a company. That seems to be beyond our imagination. But abandoned huts inside the factory premises are not that much of a shock. If there is a value system that allows us to accept people losing their homes in villages without shock, what is it? Do homes take meaning only with location, monetary value or class? Do urban homes mean more to their residents than these huts to those who used to live in them? Also, as the testimonies will show, people in Singur relate to the land they cultivate in a way that is significantly different from how we relate to our work places in the city. It means home and sometimes more than home to them.
It is interesting what an archaic [Land Acquisition Act (1894)] and an entirely novel law [SEZ Act 2005] can achieve in tandem. We would like to see a detailed review of both these Acts and extensive amendments to both.
We agree that the people of Singur (especially the landless labourers of Dobandi, who know no other skill but farming) need alternative sources of employment more than anything else. But these are not easy to come by, especially now, with the attention being diverted to the return of acquired land.
Our demands or wishes never included driving out the TATAs. We know (from the farmers’ testimonies) that much of the land acquired has been destroyed for agriculture. It will not be cultivable - perhaps for a long time to come. We strongly felt that the opposition, by fuelling the farmers’ hopes of getting back their land, was playing what was only a political game. We have heard people in the government housing (near Dobandi) ruing their plight. They lamented the fact that nobody cared for them after the elections were over. But in most cases, they ended their diatribe with an unrestrained praise of the TMC so that people from the city (like us) did not go back thinking that the villagers have not thrown in their lot with the opposition. They seem to us to be catching at the last available straws of hope in the increasingly murky waters of power politics. The opposition, of course, is by now desperate not to be seen as an enemy of ‘industrialisation’ and therefore, ready to declare ‘victory’ on behalf of the people of Singur at the first chance available. It is difficult to decide who really is speaking for whom in this scenario and with what motives, but our suspicions are increasingly confirmed - the people of Singur, once again, will be the ones to lose, the ones who will pay the price for this power struggle that tokenises them but does not really listen to their voices. The testimonies in our report only make an attempt to record this lost speech.
Singur timeline (with corroborative media articles)
Prepared by the Citizens’ Initiative (http://development-dialogues.blogspot.com and http://citizensinitiativecal.blogspot.com , email:email@example.com)
This timeline can be found online at http://development-dialogues.blogspot.com/2008/02/singur-timeline-with-corroborative.html
May 18, 2006: The seventh Left Front government is sworn in. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Ratan Tata announces that Tata Motors will set up a small-car factory in Singur, Hooghly.
May 25, 2006: Villagers show their unwillingness to give up the land when a team from Tata motors comes to inspect the land.
May 30, 2006: Nirupam Sen, commerce and industries minister, is greeted in Singur with black flags by members of the Krishi Jomi Rokkha Committee (or the Save Farmland Committee).
June1, 2006: About 3,000 villagers (under the banner of the Krishi Jomi Rokkha Committee) protest in front of the Singur Block Development Officer.
July 17, 2006: West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) submits its proposals for acquisition of land for the Tata project to the Hooghly District Magistrate, Vinod Kumar.
July 20, 2006: Publication of notifications under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 for acquisition of a total of 997.11 acres of land spread across five ‘mouzas’ in Singur.
August 7, 2006: About 5,000 villagers protest in front of the Gopalnagar gram panchayat office against land acquisition in Singur.
August 22, 2006: About 5,000 villagers protest in front of the Singur Block Development Office.
August 28, 2006: Land acquisition in Singur is challenged in the Kolkata High Court.
September 1, 2006: More than 100 villagers from Santoshimatola in Singur prevent officials from entering their villages to serve notice to acquire land.
September 25, 2006: The first lot of compensation cheques begin to be handed out from the Singur Block Development Office. About 10,000 people protest against land acquisition while about 256 of the 354 people to be awarded compensation got their cheques. Mamata Banerjee joins the protests. Protest forcefully quelled down by the police.
September 26, 2006: Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code imposed in Singur making it illegal for five or more persons to assemble together.
September 28, 2006: Rajkumar Vul (aged 24) of Gopalnagar Madhyapara village becomes the first person to die in the Singur protest.
October 9, 2006: Trinamul Congress carries out a 12-hour strike in West Bengal to protest against the incidents of September 25 and against land acquisition in Singur in general. The strike is supported by some other political parties like the Congress.
October 16, 2006: Water-pumping station in Madhyapara, Singur destroyed allegedly by CPI(M) cadres to prevent irrigation and render lands unsuitable for farming.
October 23, 2006: Water-pumping station in Kolepara, Singur destroyed allegedly by CPI(M) cadres.
October 27, 2006: Medha Patkar protests against land acquisition and addresses a rally in Bajmelia, Singur.
November 17, 2006: Mamata Banerjee holds a rally in Kolkata which marches to Singur over the next three days.
November 19, 2006: More than 7,000 people hold a rally in Bajmelia, Singur. More than 800 police personnel deployed in Singur.
November 30, 2006: Mamata Banerjee prevented by police and CPI(M) cadres from going to Singur. Violence spreads across the state. Section 144 imposed again.
December 1, 2006: Trinamul Congress carries out a 12-hour bandh. Fencing begins at the Tata factory site.
December 2, 2006: Police and CPI(M) cadres terrorise villagers in Singur burning their houses and mercilessly beating up those opposing land acquisition.
December 4, 2006: Mamata Banerjee goes on a hunger strike in front of Metro Cinema at Esplanade, Kolkata.
December 10, 2006: Fourteen women go on a hunger strike in Beraberi Purbapara, Singur to protest against police atrocities and land acquisition.
December 18, 2006: Tapasi Malik, an eighteen year old girl, protesting against land acquisition, is raped and burnt within the Tata factory premises.
December 28, 2006: Krishi Jomi Rokkha Committee holds a rally of about 3,000 people in Bajmelia, Singur.
December 28, 2006: Tinkari (aged 55) and Maya Dey (aged 50), a couple who had collected their compensation cheque is found murdered. 
December 28, 2006: Mamata Banerjee ends her twenty-five-day fast.
January 3, 2007: Activists point out constant disparities in official figures of the number of farmers who have given up the land voluntarily.
January 7, 2007: Farmers protest saying that the government has stopped releasing water from 30 deep and the mini tube-wells which fall inside the fenced-off area.
January 15, 2007: Villagers protest in front of visiting Tata officials.
January 16, 2007: Villagers of Sahanapara, Singur uproot about 30 pillars from the Tata-factory fence.
January 17, 2007: The CBI starts investigations after the government is forced to request a CBI probe into the murder of Tapasi Malik.
January 19, 2007: Astu Malik (aged 48), Tapasi Mailk’s uncle is found dead.
January 21, 2007: Construction begins ceremonially at the Tata small-car factory site.
January 24, 2007: The fence around the factory site is partially set ablaze.
January 24, 25 and 28, 2007: Non-partisan citizens voice their protest against forcible land acquisition and State atrocities.
February 4, 2007: At least 35 injured as police come down on protesting villagers. Social activist Anuradha Talwar is arrested.
February 5, 2007: More clashes between police and protesters near Kamarkundu railway station.
February 9, 2007: Farmers dig up a stretch of the Bajemelia-Beraberi road in an attempt to prevent police from entering the village.
February 14, 2007: Kolkata High Court quashes the government’s latest issue of the prohibitory order under section 144 on Febryary 4, 2007. Section 144 is removed from Singur for the first time since November 30, 2006. The High Court though terms the land acquisition as “valid and in accordance with law”.
February 25, 2007: Villagers from beriberi Purbapara try to re-claim their land but they are thwarted by the huge police force.
March 2, 2007: Villagers from Khasherbheri dig up a portion of the road leading to Beraberi Ujjwal Sangha to prevent police from entering the area.
March 9, 2007: The state government leases about 997 acres of land in Singur to the Tatas for 90 years.
March 12, 2007: Haradhan Bagh, a 62-year-old farmer, commits sucidide in Singur as his land was forcibly taken away.
March 16, 2007: Agitating farmers demolished a portion of the boundary wall in Sanapara, Singur.
March 18, 2007: Explosives blow off part of the boundary wall as 1,000 police personnel keep guard.
April 2, 2007: Four security guards at the Tata factory site, Dilip Ghosh, Nimai Karmakar, Kashinath Ghosh and Janmenjoy Ghosh, are attacked.
May 20, 2007: At least sixty villagers injured while trying to re-claim their land in Singur.
May 23, 2007: Fencing-off the Tata factory site creates water-logging elsewhere as well.
May 25, 2007: Proshanto Das (aged 45), a farmer from Khasherbheri, commits suicide as he has lost his land.
May 27, 2007: By-elections for two panchayat seats take place in Singur.
May 27, 2007: A medical study says that of the 1,000 farmers in Singur whom they studied, about 40 have become suicidal as their land has been taken away.
June 13, 2007: About 500 farmers try to storm the factory wall.
June 18, 2007: Living and Livelihood with Human Dignity (LALHUD), a voluntary organisation finds that over 90% of the villagers whose land had been forcibly acquired are severely traumatised.
June 21, 2007: CBI arrests Debu Malik for murdering Tapasi Malik.
June 28, 2007: CBI arrests CPI(M) Hooghly district committee member Suhrid Dutta for planning and carrying out Tapasi Malik’s murder.
July 2, 2007: Shankar Das, a 42-year-old agricultural labourer, dies of starvation after losing his job because of the Tata factory.
July 15, 2007: After being prevented from taking out a rally near the factory site, farmers set fire to a police camp in Bosepukur near Bajmelia.
July 19, 2007: Clashes between police and about 200 farmers as farmers try to re-claim land forcibly taken away from them.
August 10, 2007: Women hold protests in front of Tata officials near Koleypara.
August 19, 2007: About 300 villagers storm the factory wall but they are quelled down by the police.
August 31, 2007: About 100 farmers protest during the visit of Ravi Kant, the managing Director of Tata Motors, to Singur.
September 15, 2007: CBI charge-sheets Suhrid Dutta and Debu Malik for the murder of Tapasi Malik.
September 22, 2007: Srikanta Shee (aged 40), a landless farm-hand from Sahanapur, Singur commits suicide.
October 19, 2007: About 200 farmers from Beraberi Purbapara clash with police as they try to storm the boundary wall.
November 5, 2007: State government sanctions Rs 7.78 crore to improve drainage within the Tata factory site. Neighbouring villagers fear more flooding.
November 25, 2007: More than 1,500 villagers hold a rally in Singur.
December 17, 2007: Shankar Patra (aged 50), a non-recorded sharecropper from Singur, commits suicide.
January 7, 2008: The CPI(M) is voted out of the management of a Singur school.
January 10, 2008: Ratan Tata unveils the Tata Nano, the one-lakh car, in New Delhi.
January 19, 2008: Kolkata High Court dismisses allegations of improper and illegal acquisition of 997 acres at Singur. Doctors fear the verdict will make even more of the affected people suicidal.
February 8, 2008: Farmers of Singur block Durgapur expressway to voice their protests.
February 10, 2008: Kalipada Majhi (aged 45), a non-recorded sharecropper who lost his livelihood because of the Tata project, dies starvation and associated health problems.
February 25, 2008: Agitated farmers attack the car of the Singur Block Development Officer.
April 3, 2008: Two construction labourers, Shyamsundar Bhattacharya (aged 42) and Manik Pal (aged 24), die after falling from the roof of a building under construction in the Tata Mators plant.
April 9, 2008: About 50 farmers wave black flags as Swraj Paul and other delegates from the Commonwealth Parliamentary association visit the Tata Nano plant. Police used to chase away the farmers. Swraj Paul denies seeing any resistance to the Tata project.
May 10, 2008: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee addresses a rally in Singur ahead of the panchayat polls.
May 13, 2008: Panchayat polls in Singur.
May 21, 2008: The ruling CPI(M) party loses all seats in the panchayat polls in Singur.
May 22, 2008: The state directorate of employment says that Tata Motors has not notified any vacancy to any of the employment exchanges in Hooghly district so far thus bursting the Chief Minister’s claim that the Tata Motors factory will provide employment to the local population.
May 22, 2008: After winning the local elections, SKJRC members ask construction works to stay away from work and then later chase away labourers.
May 25, 2008: Hours before Mamata Banerjee addresses a victory rally in Singur, some farmers burn down a watchtower outside the Tata Motors factory triggering strong reactions from the police. Mamata urges her supporters to stay away from violence.
May 26, 2008: Mamata says the government must return the 400 acres of land acquired without consent from the owners.
June 14, 2008: Addressing a rally in Joymollah, Singur, Mamata says she will picket outside the Tata Motors factory from August 20th if the 400 acres of land acquired without consent are not returned.
June 27, 2008: Almost 200 famers break down a portion of the boundary wall as a sign of protest as Ravi Kant, the MD of Tata Motors comes to inspect the site.
July 3, 2008: About 500 people who had been hired by Tata Motors have not been paid for several months and have now been released for work. A large number of them being CPI(M) supporters, the CPI(M) joins the protest to secure permanent employment for them and see to it that the salaries due are paid.
July 28, 2008: Crude bombs hurled by farmers protesting against the factory in Singur railway station and at Mainak Lodge, a guest house where workers of the Tata Motors plant were staying. Workers coming to the Tata Motors factory stopped and beaten up by SKJRC members.
July 29, 2008: Manish Khatua, an employee of Shapoorji Pallonji working at the Tata Motors factory, beaten up by SKJRC members.
August 1, 2008: A group of farmers force their way into the small car project site from Khasherbheri side and allegedly beat up several workers and seven security guards. In another incident, some construction workers and two policemen were allegedly beaten up by some supporters of SKJRC on Durgapur Expressway near the project site. The attack took place when some policemen were escorting the workers to Singur railway station. 
August 2, 2008: More than 300 CPI(M) supporters took out a procession from Sahanapara at Singur this afternoon in protest against the alleged TMC sponsored attack on labourers working on the Nano project.
August 3, 2008: SKJRC held a meeting in front of Singur railway station this afternoon, which was attended by more than 5,000 local people. TMC decides to set up camps for an indefinite period from 24 August all along the 4 km-long stretch on the highway in front of the Tata plant to press its demand for return of 400 acres of land acquired forcibly from farmers.
August 10, 2008: More than 1,000 Congress workers take out a procession from Khasherbheri in protest against the way in which the agricultural land was acquired for the Singur small car factory project. DYFI, the youth wing of the CPI(M), organised a rally at Singur today in protest against the TMC’s attempt to disrupt work.
August 20, 2008: The meeting today between the state government and the TMC and its allies spearheading the agitation against the Tata Motors small car project at Singur predictably ended inconclusively, with both sides sticking to their stated positions.
August 21, 2008: More than 2,000 Congress workers take out a procession. After being chased away by policemen, Congress workers sat on Durgapur Expressway and blocked the road for three hours that led to heavy traffic jam.
August 22, 2008: Ratan Tata says that the Nano project may be moved outside Singur if disturbances continue.
August 24, 2008: Day 1 of Mamata’s camp in Singur. National Highway 2 closed.
August 28, 2008: Workers inside the Tata factory detained for several hours.
August 29, 2008: Work suspended inside the Tata factory.
September 3, 2008: Sushil Santra from Joymollah, aged 55, who had happily given his land for the Tata project and whose three sons had found work in the project, drank pesticide and died this morning in his house 100 metres away from the factory. Clashes between TMC supporters and a section of farmers who have given their land voluntarily for the TATA project.
September 5-7, 2008: Talk between the TMC and the state government with the governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi acting as a mediator. The governor reads out a statement saying that the government will provide as much land as possible to those land owners who have not collected compensation.
 Note: This conflation of government with the Tatas is common among the people we spoke to. This man blamed the Government for the fact that he hasn’t received his pay as a guard with the Tatas for the last four months.
 The work he means is, presumably, farm work. He is willing to work at the land.
 He may perhaps have meant that the tube wells were broken down so as to render farming impossible and then to show that the land is not being used for farming, is not fertile, etc.
 Referring to the incident at Nandigram on 14.3.2007
 Seven CPI (M) panchayat seats in 2003-08 were from: Kamarkundu, two seats from Beraberi (S), Maalpara, Madhyapara, Chackalika, Neelerpahar. Three TMC panchayat seats 03-08 are from: Dobandi and Joymollah together, Beraberi (E) and Khaserbheri together and Madhusudanpur.
 “Tata Motors is initiating various steps to train people of Singur villages, who had earlier registered with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, to improve their employability. People in the area will be trained and the training will vary according to an individual's educational qualification and skills.
Training will be imparted in areas like house-keeping, gardening, canteen service, carpentry, plumbing, electricity and welding. Those preferring self-employment will be taught the skills to set up kiosks for vegetables, fruits, laundry shops and cycle repair units.” - Debasis Ray, head, corporate communications, Tata Motors, http://www.rediff.com/money/2007/feb/09singur.htm
1 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=144455&date=2006-05-19&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060519/asp/bengal/story_6244196.asp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=145219&date=2006-05-27&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060526/asp/bengal/story_6272623.asp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=146005&date=2006-06-02&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060602/asp/bengal/story_6301189.asp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=158469&date=2006-09-26&usrsess=1 , http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=158502&date=2006-09-26&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=158552&date=2006-09-27&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=166143&date=2006-12-03&usrsess=1 , http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=166145&date=2006-12-03&usrsess=1 , http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=166180&date=2006-12-03&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=166177&date=2006-12-03&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=167860&date=2006-12-19&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=167862&date=2006-12-19&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=169081&date=2006-12-29&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=169220&date=2006-12-30&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=171689&date=2007-01-22&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070122/asp/frontpage/story_7294279.asp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=22&id=172070&date=2007-01-25&usrsess=1 , http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=172233&date=2007-01-26&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=172307&date=2007-01-29&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=174401&date=2007-02-15&usrsess=1 , http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070215/asp/frontpage/story_7395782.asp and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=174402&date=2007-02-15&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=176687&date=2007-03-10&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070310/asp/frontpage/story_7497407.asp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=177481&date=2007-03-19&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=2&id=177501&date=2007-03-19&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=194044&date=2007-08-20&usrsess=1 and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=199883&date=2007-10-07&usrsess=1
 http://development-dialogues.blogspot.com/2008/01/singur-buy-okay-hc.html and http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=213447&date=2008-01-19&usrsess=1
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=216882&date=2008-02-11&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080211/jsp/bengal/story_8888217.jsp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=22&id=224770&date=2008-04-04&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080404/jsp/bengal/story_9094511.jsp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=232165&date=2008-05-26&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080526/jsp/bengal/story_9321912.jsp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=232297&date=2008-05-27&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080526/jsp/bengal/story_9321919.jsp
 http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=1&id=234958&date=2008-06-15&usrsess=1 and http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080615/jsp/bengal/story_9413674.jsp
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 http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080908/jsp/frontpage/story_9803449.jsp and http://thestatesman.net/page.news.php?clid=6&id=221416&usrsess=1
Sunday, September 21, 2008
OUR EXPERIENCES IN SINGUR