Monday, May 25, 2009

The ruling party in West Bengal plans to not forcibly acquire land

Land impact on CM’s lips
Party dissects local factors

Calcutta, May 24: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today virtually admitted that discontent related to land played a crucial role in the Left parties’ poll debacle and made it clear land acquisition would be put on the backburner for the remaining two years of his term, sources said.

The chief minister’s specific observations before the CPM state committee did not find mention in the official party release which sought to strike a balance between both national and local reasons — the subject of a raging debate — behind the drubbing.

“It is true that the all-India voting trend has also influenced the outcome in Bengal. Having said that, we can’t ignore our shortcomings in the functioning of the government, the party, the Left Front, panchayats, municipalities and our mass organisation as well as in public relations. Accepting the people’s mandate, we will take corrective measures,’’ the statement said, without making a direct reference to the land controversy.

However, sources told The Telegraph that several members raised the issue at the meeting, following which the chief minister responded. The sources said Bhattacharjee did not delve into the national issues as they were highlighted in an initial note distributed by state party secretary Biman Bose.

Bhattacharjee “accepted the criticism” against the state government and said that henceforth, he would proceed by “accepting the people’s mandate”.

“The chief minister made it clear that he would abide by the people’s verdict which had gone against us on the land issue. From now on, he will take a flexible and cautious approach in pursuing the government’s development goals, particularly those involving land acquisition. No major land acquisition will be carried out if the local people do not want it,” a committee member said.

Bhattacharjee also stressed on what some members called a “course correction”. He spoke of “time-bound implementation” of rural development projects, including job-generating schemes, rural electrification, public health and education packages to win back voters who had deserted the Left, the sources said.

Bhattacharjee admitted that the government’s style of functioning has to change to make it more accountable to “poor people”. He said the cabinet core committee would meet on May 28 to set guidelines to implement the government’s priorities.

The state committee did touch upon the issues raised by the politburo last week — such as the failure of the third front and the voters’ perception that the Congress could provide stability.

Although the pro-Prakash Karat faction in the politburo had insisted that the withdrawal of support to the UPA and the vote against its government were ratified by the politburo and central committee “unanimously”, it was clear that the Bengal leadership wanted to debate both issues.

However, in line with its composition, the state committee utilised most of the latter half of the session to discuss local factors — the first time a party forum attempted to dissect such issues after the results were announced.

The criticism against the state party and the government largely revolved around disenchantment among the rural poor, which was blamed on the land acquisition programme. A committee member said the state government’s “hasty” and “forcible” land acquisition and subsequent violence in Singur and Nandigram had alienated farmers.

Some leaders carried to the meeting the public criticism of the central leadership’s decision to withdraw support to the UPA — articulating the deep divisions within the CPM — but others did not spare the local leadership either.

“The state leadership is trying to absolve itself of responsibility. They must answer why the so-called Congress wave stopped at the border of Bihar and Orissa,” a veteran member said

This section pointed out that the urban middle class, both Bengali and non-Bengali, did not come out overwhelmingly in support of the Left Front, belying the party’s hope to cushion the loss elsewhere.

Today’s meeting did not settle the question which factor was decisive in the poll debacle. The committee will wait for feedback from booth-level campaign committees as well as district committees before meeting again on June 11 and 12 for a “full-fledged review”.

Copycat land protest by CPM

Durgapur, May 24: A poll-stung CPM has taken a leaf out of the Trinamul Congress’s book and forced work to stop at a state government coal-mining project, demanding better compensation for landlosers.

Some 1,000 villagers alle- gedly led by local CPM leaders stoned workers at the open- cast mine project in Bankura’s Borjora on Friday, demanding jobs for landloser families and cash for their farm labourers. One worker was injured.

Trinamul had earlier objected to the project with similar demands but with the CPM then in favour, 105 acres of the required 750 acres were acquired in 2007 and digging started last October.

Now CPM opposition has halted the project with 25 per cent of the work already done.

“We have stopped work since our workers are feeling insecure after the stone-throwing,” said P.P. Mishra, an official of Trans Damodar Coal Mining Project, a private firm hired by the government.

Aloke Mukherjee, Trinamul leader and Borjora gram panchayat chief, said: “The CPM is trying to hijack our agitation. We were agitating from the outset; now the CPM has placed the same demands. They are trying to copy us to improve their image.”

One perceived reason for the CPM’s poll debacle was its post-Nandigram image of land-grabber. The party is now desperate to acquire a “farmer-friendly” face.

The secretary of the CPM’s Borjora zonal committee, Tarun Raj, denied forcing the project to stop. “We submitted our charter of demands; we don’t know about Trinamul’s demands,” he said.

Bankura district magis-trate Sundar Majumder said: “The ADM will hold a meeting with the parties and project authorities in a day or two.”

The project was conceived after the state government appealed to Coal India in 2004 to mine coal in Bengal so that the steel and sponge-iron plants in Burdwan, Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore had uninterrupted coal supply.

Most of the land in Borjora is multi-crop, and the government offered Rs 4 lakh to Rs 6.4 lakh an acre. The compensation package included jobs for those losing two acres or more, 3.5 cottahs of developed residential plot against loss of a house, and 25 per cent of the land price to the sharecroppers.