Buddhadev Reneges on Promises to Singur Peasants to Appease Tatas
Singur is back to square one. Soon after an agreement was reached between the Trinamul Congress (TMC) and the state government on September 7 for the return of land to “unwilling” peasants inside and outside the project area, Tata Motors adamantly announced its reluctance to part with any land. Dancing to its tunes, the government clarified that nothing would be done without its prior permission and the joint committee comprising representatives of the Trinamul Congress (TMC) and the state government collapsed. The temporary truce that provided a breathing space to both sides thus yielded place to the next round of pitched battle.
With both the Left Front (including smaller partners, who have often been critical of the CPI(M)'s handling of the Singur and Nandigram issues) and the TMC holding mass meetings in Singur on consecutive days -- the former to sell its “new and improved” package of compensation and the latter to re-launch its agitation following the violation of the agreement inked in the presence of Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi -- the mercury began to rise again in and over the hotspot of Bengal politics. Meanwhile, the Kolkata High Court has passed an interim order upholding Tata's contention that the agreement between Tata motors Ltd and the WB Government shall not be made public pending further orders. This makes a mockery of the spirit of the Right to Information Act and once again shows that in the ultimate analysis the judiciary too, like the executive, acts as an agent of big capital.
The text of the TMC- WB Government “gentlemen's agreement” contained no specific provision for compensation to agrarian workers and sharecroppers. We severely condemned this deliberate lapse in our state-wide campaign including a big rally in Singur. The new package that the government has since come up with claims to address this issue, but once again in a most casual, shoddy fashion. For agricultural workers and unregistered sharecroppers, the government promises a compensation of 300 days of wage at NREGA rate. But workers have already been deprived of nearly 700 days of work since December 2006, when the fencing came up for the Tata project; and there is no alternative employment in sight for the bulk of them. So the compensation should be calculated for a much longer period – in fact, back in September 2006 a CPI(M) Politburo member talking on a national TV channel had promised five years' wage as compensation – and should be supplemented with adequate rehabilitation.
We have therefore demanded Rs. one lakh in compensation plus alternative job for every rural worker, who has lost his/her livelihood. The party has also demanded (a) adequate compensation to families of the martyrs of the movement, of those who died of starvation or committed suicide out of frustration and many others who have suffered in various ways during the last two years, (b) immediate withdrawal of false cases against agitating peasants and political workers, (c) punishment of police personnel and others involved in the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik and Rajkumar Bhul and (d) immediate publication of the full version of the original agreement between Tata Motors and the state government .
Speaking in favour of its new package, the state government boasts that it has made no distinction between “willing” and “unwilling” peasants, offering the same – now enhanced – rate of compensation for both categories. It is scandalous, however, that it does make a distinction between registered and unregistered sharecroppers, relegating the latter to the category of agrarian workers, i.e., promising them nothing more than 300 days of wage. The unregistered sharecroppers are thus punished for no fault of theirs, and for the failure of the much trumpeted Operation Barga. This is not to say that registered sharecroppers have been offered something great. The state government proposes to give them only 25 per cent of what the landowner gets as compensation. By contrast, we have demanded that both registered and unregistered sharecroppers must be compensated at par with landowners.
A hectic campaign is going on in favour of the government package, which has received the blessings of Ratan Tata and the dominant corporate media. Ananda Bazaar Patrika has already mobilised heavyweights like Amartya Sen and MS Swaminathan in favour of this package. But it has evoked only a lukewarm response among Singur peasants, and some of those who had earlier accepted cheques of compensation (the so-called “willing” peasants) are demanding their land back, or land – not cash – in compensation for land. Agrarian workers, sharecroppers and other toilers who depend on the agro-based (both farm and off-farm) economy of Singur and constitute the backbone force of the anti-eviction movement, are feeling badly let down. ‘Those who have lost their land can perhaps accept and fall back on the enhanced compensation money, but what will happen to us’, they ask. ‘What shall we do with the few thousands of rupees thrown out to us?’ Class polarisation is thus getting sharper and the party of revolutionary proletariat must energetically pursue the class line of relying mainly on the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat while consolidating the unity of the entire peasantry against the anti-people government. Thus alone can the movement develop to a new, higher phase.
CPI(ML) Initiatives at Singur
As part of its Singur Abhiyan (Campaign), CPI(ML) organised a rally at Singur on September 10 against the recent ‘compromise’ made by the WB Government with Mamta Banerjee which ignores the rights of sharecroppers and agricultural labourers. CPI(ML) activists and supporters from all over south Bengal converged at Kamarkundu station, from where they marched to Barohatkalitola, where the Singur movement had started when local women chased away Tata Motors officials on August 22, 2006 when they came to survey the land. A procession from Kamarkundu station with almost two thousand enthusiastic people reached the meeting place demanding alternative land and livelihood for the victimised peasants and bargadars. A compensation of a minimum of one lakh rupees as rehabilitation cost along with alternative means of livelihood for the displaced agricultural labourers was also demanded. CPI(ML) also demanded that the deal between the West Bengal state government and Tata Motors be made public. The protesters also criticised the fact that the CPI(M) is even ignoring the latest talks between government and opposition, which were mediated by the Governor, for the sake of absolute benefit of Tata. Immediate punishment for the killers of Tapasi Mallick and Rajkumar Bhul was demanded. The parents of Tapasi Malik was present throughout the meeting supporting this demand. State secretary Comrade Partha Ghosh, politburo member Comrade Kartik Pal, state committee member Comrade Chaitali Sen and Comrade Sajal Adhikari addressed the meeting. It was presided over by state leader Comrade Tapan Batabyal.
On September 19, the West Bengal State Committee of CPI(ML) held a March to the Raj Bhawan, reiterating the above-mentioned demands. A procession, which was joined by scores of people from Singur, marched from College Square to Esplanade where a public meeting was held. The meeting was addressed by CPI(ML) leaders. Subsequently, a delegation comprising of the Partho Ghosh, State Secretary, Kartick Pal, PBM, Sajal Adhikary, SCM, Shyamapada Dhara, an agricultural labourer from Singur and Tarapada Kole, an unregistered sharecropper from Singur, met the Governor and submitted a memorandum. Shyamapada Dhara and Tarapada Kole told the Governor about the miserable conditions in which they led their lives after land was acquired for the Tata Motors plant. The delegation urged the Governor to visit Singur and examine first-hand the condition of the affected people. The delegation also demanded that work under NREGA be started at Singur and urged the Governor to clarify the stand of the state government with regard to the September 7 agreement since it was signed in his presence. The Governor assured the delegation that all demands would be conveyed to the state government and he would sincerely consider visiting Singur.
Peasants up against another Singur-type plot in Bengal
Deposing at a public hearing regarding the state-owned West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited WBPDCL’s 1000 megawatt (2 x 500 MW) power project at Koshigram village under Katwa sub-division in Burdwan district, 403 peasants have till date recorded their position. A five-member CPI(ML) Liberation team comprising Comrades Kartick Pal, Biman Biswas,Meena Pal, Sajal Pal and myself, along with Comrade Ashok Chowdhury, a district level leader of the party, visited the village which would be worst affected if the project takes shape, and met with the functionaries of Krishi Jami Krishak o Khetnajur Bachao Committee (Save Agricultural Land, Peasants and Agricultural Labourers’ Committee – KJKKBC). Even the day we were there over 60 persons deposed before the public hearing and all but two spoke against the undemocratic acquisition.
The consensus at the meeting was that there were far less costly alternatives to the WBPDCL’s land grab policy, ostensibly for augmenting power production to meet growing demand for electricity.