SEZ war looms over Mahishadal, West Bengal

Tamluk, June 25:

Land-war clouds now threaten to gather over Mahishadal, 10km from Nandigram across the Haldi, with the Centre on Friday approving “in principle” a special economic zone there.

Villagers led by the Trinamul Congress and the SUCI today said they would fight any attempt to acquire land for the 2,500-acre SEZ in the East Midnapore block, about 120km from Calcutta.

Trinamul workers demonstrated before the office of Lakshminarayan Maity, the block land and land reforms officer, and handed him a memorandum. Some 100 party workers blockaded the Haldia-Mecheda road.

“We asked the official about the size of the land required for the SEZ but he couldn’t give us a satisfactory reply,” said Trinamul leader Buddhadeb Bhowmik. “We have given them three days. If we don’t get a clear answer, we’ll intensify our agitation.”

Maity said he didn’t have the information and would inform his superiors.

Under the government’s new SEZ policy, final approval can come only after land has been acquired — so the process must start soon.

Today’s protests, however minor, would deepen the creases on the government’s forehead because Nandigram and Singur seem to be spawning new land agitations every week.

Last week, in Asansol’s Purushottampur, villagers battled police to prevent the takeover of plots acquired 18 years ago for the IISCO Steel Plant’s modernisation.

East Midnapore SUCI secretary Manab Bera said his party would join any “movement against land acquisition” in Mahishadal. “We won’t allow any farmland or homestead to be acquired.”

Mahishadal and Nandigram — which is about 170km from Calcutta — are a 90km drive from each other but far closer by the river route.

Nandigram’s pangs over the return of refugees continued today. CPM supporters in various shelters refused to return without 19 of their comrades blacklisted by the Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee.

The CPM had handed the police a list of refugees who would be returning but the Pratirodh Committee said 19 of those named had attacked the villagers during the March 14 police firing.

“We won’t let those involved in the March 14 violence return,” said Pratirodh Committee convener Abu Taher.

“If we leave these 19 people behind, it will be a betrayal,” said Santosh Das, 42, of Simulkundu, who is now at the Sherkhanchowk refugee camp.