Singur Update : June 19, 2007 – from APDR (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights)

ASSOCIATION FOR PROTECTION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
Hooghly District Committee
Dated 19.6.2007

SINGUR : A Brief UPDATE

If one visits today Gopalnagar, Bajemelia, Beraberi, Khaser Bheri or Jaymolla–the five mouzas in the Singur block one will find able bodied people sitting at their doorsteps or street crossings. They have no work to do–their lands have been forcibly occupied for so called ‘development’. “Development” to them have become synonymous with loss of job, loss of livelihood.

Till recently these places were bubbling with activity related to the agriculture–seeing someone walking along the zigzags of the rustic village road, people would leave their work at the field and spare a few minutes for a chat regarding their harvest regarding their movement. While talking about their land, their work, the face would lighten up, the chest would broaden up with pride, while talking about their struggle signs of uncertain future and determination for resisting the onslaught would alternate their body language. Seeing a stranger at the doorstep a few months ago a peasant woman would have welcomed him with her smile and a glass of water, may be with some eatable.

But the protest is still on, occasional attempts to smash the illegal boundary wall has become an added feature along with meetings and demonstrations. The people are confident that their movement will be victorious, very soon they will be able to set foot on their own land which is now behind the walls guarded by armed police.

They now ask if Nundigram people could save their farm land, their villages from the clutches of the ‘looters’, why cannot they be victorious. Some would ask hesitantly, does the government want them to follow the path taken by Nundigram. Some would assert sun, moon and stars are still above in the sky –under their eyes such gross injustice cannot sustain long. Some would describe how the sounds from behind the walls hit directly into their heart and how they spend sleepless nights.

While the affected landowners of Singur have become anxious how long they will survive with the remains of last harvest, the landless labourers of Dobandi and other localities are already on starvation–Bimala Khamaru breathed her last with an empty stomach, some more will be added to the list. Prasant Das took his life, being unable to smash the walls of injustice by hitting them with their head. (To quote Rabindranath––Aami je dekhechi tarun balak unmad hoye chhute / Ki jantranay morechhe pathare nisphal matha kute) The dream-factory of the apostles of globalization is being built over the corpses of Rajkumar Bhul, Tapasi Malik, her uncle, Haradhan Bag, Bimala Khamaru, Prasanta Das.

At least a couple of hundred others are being compelled to commute regularly to the court all for the safety and well being of the Tatas. They protested with broomsticks–the police charged hem under Explosives act. Six of them were murdered, for the ‘safety’ of Tata project, directly or indirectly by the guardians of law –– yet they were charged wth murderous attempt. At least a hundred people live their rest of life with scars and fractures over their body–-scars and fractures inflicted by the police maintained at their cost but serving the Tatas,

Such is Singur today– on the one side is the real Singur, which has become synonymous with struggle for protection of right to livelihood, right to development, right to life and liberty. On the other side is the walled fortress–the Singur created for the Tatas by a massive onslaught of lies, illegalities, repression and violence. The impact of the Singur movement and other similar movements compelled the state and union governments to make some policy decisions regarding change in law, procedures etc. the same laws and policies which are being pursued with all ruthlessness in Singur will now perhaps be changed––but why Singur should be sacrificed is the most pertinent question in context of Singur.

Some of the lies on which the government, district administration and the party in power relied and publicised with much fanfare and since unmasked :

1. Character of land : From the very beginning, the district and block administration, some CPI(M) ministers and party leaders had been saying that the land in question are either barren or mono-cropped. APDR conducted on the spot survey and citing government statistics regarding irrigational facilities, fertiliser and insecticide use, opposed this contention. Even, on 3 April 07, the ADM (L &R), Hooghly tried to defend the untruth, when the APDR team raised the issue. Series of articles and interviews by such “informed” persons like Benoy Konar, Brinda Karat MP (as late as on 13 December, 06) in monopoly media and as well as in pages of Ganashakti and Peoples Democracy (as late as on 31 December, 06) propagated the untruth. Interestingly the Chief Minister in a left front meeting in the third week of may admitted that he was ‘unaware’ that the concerned land in Singur are at least triple-cropped.

If his ignorance is honest, the persons or agencies responsible for feeding the CM with untruth must be investigated and proceeded against.

At the same time the decision taken on the basis of this vital untruth is illegal and must be undone––the walls raised around Singur agricultural lands must be removed and the lands must be returned to the owners.

2. Voluntarily giving consent to acquisition : As early as on 17 September 06, quoting Block sources the CPI(M) mouthpiece Ganashakti reported that owners of 2647 bighas (about 900 acres) of the proposed 1000 acre site gave their consent for acquisition. Taking cue from the political bosses the bureaucrats in the district and state administration rehearsed the same untruth. They prepared a “Status of land in Singur” on 31 December, 06. With much euphoria it asserted that Total consents to award of compensation received till 31st December 2006 covers an area of 958.84 acres. This process is still continuing. Brinda Karat, MP and Sitaram Yechuri in their articles in The Hindu ( 13 Dec 06), Peoples Democracy Ganashakti and elsewhere, in Peoples Democracy editorial dated 31 Dec., 2006 the same untruth was piously served. When APDR’s PIL on Singur came up before the Calcutta High Court, the state Advocate General and CPI(M) functionary Balai Ray also spewed the same untruth before the Hon’ble Chief justice. When the state was asked to give affidavit and legally acceptable consent agreements in support of the claim, the learned AJ had only to amend himself–scaling down the number of “consenters” to the owners of 315 acres of land. That claim was again scaled down to the owners of 287 acres of land” when the affidavit was submitted to the High Court in writing. However in all govt publication and letters it was mentioned that there is no need to obtain consent under the 1894 Act.

The governments defence of depriving a large agricultural community of their livelihood centered round the assertion that the people was giving away their land voluntarily. Of the 287 acres said to be received by consent, at least 51.73 acres are path-bandh nala etc, which are khas land anyway. The final figure of so called consent will thus be limited to only one fifth of the forcibly fenced/walled land.

When the true nature of the basis of “consent” of government contention is known, the continuing forcible occupation of Singur people’s land is unethical, immoral and unconstitutional according to the provisions of Article 243(G) (a). That the state government failed to transfer power to the Panchayets as directed in the Article during the last thirty years, can not be the justification of snatching away their livelihood.

When the cat is finally out of bag, it is important that those holding highest positions in government and bureaucracy must be accounted for their wilful distortion of facts and must be investigated and proceeded against

At the same time the very defence of the governments misdeed being proved to be unfounded the misdeeds must be corrected––the walls raised around Singur agricultural lands must be removed and the lands must be lands returned to their owners.

3. Employment generation and social development : The government had been saying that there will be at least 10000 direct/indirect employment generated by the project. According to Tata Motors communication to APDR, the direct employment may be around 2000. And then the govt-industrialist claim need to be taken with a pinch of salt–at Haldia Project only about 650 people got direct employment instead of the promised 6000, according to State Assembly standing committee report. It has been learned that some major components, probably the engine itself of the proposed car is being oursourced to Fiat of Italy. This indicates the fate of indirect employment. According to government data 13,010 landowners will lose their share of land and income from it. Add to this the share croppers, agricultural labourers, marketing agents (fariahs), trolley pullers and a few those who do not fall in the above categories, but still survive in an agricultural community depending on naturally produced products, fishing etc. Some (around 40) were said to have trained in trades at the state expenses–none got a placement. None of the evictees were rehabilitated for livelihood even six months after their physical eviction. The total no. of displacement from livelihood will be no less than 15,000.

Even if the Tata-govt claims be proved true and all the factory-related jobs accommodate Singur evictees, at least 3000 more unemployed will be created as a result of implementation of the Tata project.

The project will create more unemployment, there will be no contribution to social development––it must be scrapped and the lands be returned to their owners.

Suppression of information :

1. Sops given to Tatas : All questions regarding the sops given to the Tatas remained unanswered till March, 2007. It has now been admitted that the Tatas are not even paying the cost of the land. Apart from this there will be sops in the form of cheap electricity, concessions and holidays in respect of almost all taxes and duties

2. Whose investment ? According to Tata Press Note dated 18 May 2006, the “Total Investment will be over 1000” Obviously this total investment covers the cost of the sops including the cost of land which totals to at least 700 crores in any conservative estimate.

3. Whose factory ? According to news TOI-India Business (28 Feb 07) this will be a Tata-Fiat joint venture. The Fiat representative visiting with Italian PM Podhi claimed at a Press Conference in Bombay that it will be a 50-50 joint venture between Tatas and Fiats. About 70% of the investments come direct from tax payers pocket. Yet it will be a Tata owned factory.

4. Low cost car at whose expense ? Apart from the investment as above, the state government will give subsidy “above Rs 18000 per car” as admitted by CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in his interview in Calcutta TV on 28 Feb 07. If ever the targeted 5 lakh car per year is produced, the tax payers shall have to give subsidy to the tune of Rs. 1000 car a year to keep the factory alive. This amount could make rice available to the poor through PDS at Rs 2 per Kg.

Some illegalities

1. All extant rules and laws regarding environment were simply thrown into air.

2. Even the procedures and time frames fixed by the 1894 Act were not adhered to ( APDR’s PIL on some of such irregularities are pending before the High Court)

3. The notification imposing sec 144 on 30 Nov 06 was declared illegal by the Calcutta High Court. This action was instrumental in arresting movement activists and forcibly occupying and fencing lands of Singur people.

3. While deciding on Tata Project, the Assembly, the state cabinet and all the democratic institutions had been kept in dark. Left front constituents publicly complained that let alone assembly and cabinet, the issue was even never raised in the Left Front Core Committee.

Impact of the Singur movement

The impact of the Singur movement and other similar movements compelled the state and union governments to make the following policy decisions regarding change in law, procedures etc

1. Land Acquisition Act-1894 likely to be scrapped or substantially modified.

2. No government shall acquire land for private companies.

3. Industries/SEZs will not be allowed on agricultural land.

4. No acquisition of farm land without owner’s consent.

5. Rehabilitation first, acquisition next.

6. Policies on SEZ being reviewed by ECM. There are strong demands for substantially modifying the act

7. Consensus being developed for reducing the quantity of land in excess of actual requirement for the industry.

Singur is not a declared SEZ area–– but the state government treating it as such for the benefit of the Tatas. All the above laws and policies are being pursued with all ruthlessness in Singur The very initiation of the process and review show that the questions and raised by the Singur movement is relevant and pertinent. Those will now perhaps be changed or scrapped ––but why Singur should be sacrificed is the most pertinent question in context of Singur today. The process of review and rethinking show that those who were arrested and being persecuted, fought for a right cause, they did a commendable service to the nation by pointing to the anomalies and injustice in state policies. If the powers at the state are really serious about their objective, all cases against the movement activists must be withdrawn forthwith.

While placing this brief update to all concerned, we place the following demands to the administration and appeal to people to rally behind the valiant people of Singur who are waging an unprecedented struggle for protection of our rights :

1. The walls raised around Singur agricultural lands must be removed and the lands must be lands returned to their owners.

2. All cases against the movement activists must be withdrawn forthwith.

3. Families of Rajkumar Bhul, Tapasi Malik, her uncle, Haradhan Bag, Bimala Khamaru, Prasanta Das who lost their lives as a fall out of Forcible imposition of Tata project on them shall have to be adequately compensated.

4. All police personnel responsible for atrocities on unarmed people on 25 Sept., 06, 2 Dec, 06 and on other days and those responsible for assaulting Rajkumar Bhule resulting in his death, shall have to be punished. Tapasi was raped, killed and her body burnt under the nose of a few hundred police and guards. The onus fully lies on the administration. The results of the CID/CBI nvestgation shall have to be published immediately and those responsible must be punished.

5. Brinda Karat, Benoy Konar, the district administration and all those knowingly lied about the nature of land and extent of so called voluntary consent must apologise unconditionally to the Singur people..

6. All agreements concluded with Tatas, details of concessions/incentives given to them including the MOU and participation of Fiat in the venture shall have to be made public.

7. Land acquisition Act 1894, WB SEZ Act 2003 and SEZ Act 2005 shall have to be scrapped.

8. Legislative provisions empowering local bodies to decide on programmes of developement as per directives of Articles 73 and 74 of the Constitution of India shall have to be made before embarking on any further project for so called developement.

(Ashoke Debray) (Amitadyuti Kumar)

Secretary , District APDR President, District APDR