Sanhati Newsletter – Issue 1, July 29, 2007

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SANHATI NEWSLETTER

Fighting Neo-liberalism in Bengal

www.sanhati. com

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. About Us

2. Penetrating the Retail sector in Bengal – the Reliance Juggernaut – Partho Sarathi Ray

3. Mahishadal – SEZ war looms over proposed Chemical Hub

4. Rejoinder to Amartya Sen’s interview in The Telegraph, July 23 – Prof. Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

5. U-Turn of Industrial Policy Erodes the Very Base of Agriculture – Analytical piece on economic policy by Prof. Abhijit Guha

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About Us
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Today, people all over the world, especially in developing countries, are facing the onslaught of global capital in the form of the neo-liberal socio-economic policies that have been unleashed on them. People in the India, too, have become victims as national and state governments continue to impose these policies in the name of development and growth. West Bengal, ironically ruled by a coalition that bears the name “Left Front”, is no exception. However, it is indeed heartening that, around the world, people’s resistance to such policies are generating new mass movements in search of “another world”.

Inspired by this people’s resistance, Sanhati was born. With a focus on fighting neo-liberalism in West Bengal, Sanhati brings together students, researchers, teachers, professionals, activists and other people from various walks of life. The objective of Sanhati is to generate solidarity for the struggles against anti-people policies, to provide a platform to grassroot movements to express themselves, to critically analyze policies that affect people. Sanhati is also part of the initiatives for bridging local movements in Bengal to other people’s movements in India and elsewhere. And, in this process, Sanhati endeavours to participate in the search for alternatives to the neo-liberal paradigm.

We, at Sanhati, feel that it is important that news and views on the ongoing struggles of the people of West Bengal, and other parts of India, reach out to everyone. For that to happen in a concerted manner, we have decided to launch a newsletter that will try to encapsulate the important news, notes from activists from their field of work, analysis of the events and policies, and other related material. So, here we are with the first issue of this newsletter, focusing on emerging struggles related to land acquisition, opening up of retail sector in the state, a response to Amartya Sen’s views on industrialisation in Bengal, and an analysis of the state government’s industrial/agricult ural policy. In days to come, we hope to bring to you more news/information/ analysis on a regular basis.

For our efforts to be meaningful, it needs participation from readers; therefore, please let us know what you feel and also what you want to read about in our newsletter. Also, we welcome you to contribute to and express solidarity with this project by sending your writings on these issues.

Please feel free to contact us at :

sanhatiindia@ sanhati.com

In case you would like to unsubscribe, please send us a mail with the title “Unsubscribe” .

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Penetrating the Retail Sector in Bengal – the Reliance Juggernaut

By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
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The latest neo-liberal onslaught on the lives and livelihoods of working people in India is taking place in the retail sector. After agriculture, the retail sector employs the largest number of people in India. Of the 40 million people involved in retailing as an economic activity, 0.5 million are in organized retail whereas around 39.5 million people are employed in unorganized retail trade. This includes all sorts of small retailing operations ranging from neighbourhood “mom-and-pop” shops to street vendors to small farmers who travel to cities daily to sell their produce to the small-scale transporters who transport the retail goods. These 40 million adults in the retail sector roughly translates into 160 million dependents, making the retail sector the source of livelihood for approximately a sixth of India’s population. The decade of liberalization, which has seen stagnation in the agrarian economy and large scale job losses in the manufacturing sector, has pushed more and more people into different aspects of retailing in absence of any other opportunities.

On the other hand, the small but burgeoning middle class in India, with immense spending power compared to the vast majority of the poor people in the country, has been eyed for quite some time by both multinational corporations involved in the retail trade and by Indian corporations which want to enter the arena sensing it to be a source of huge profits. Walmart from USA, known for its hated business practices, Metro AG of Germany and Carrefour of France have all been trying to enter the Indian retail market. As the Indian government has still not allowed foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector, Walmart is trying to enter the Indian market in a joint venture with Bharti, an Indian company.

Leading the charge among Indian corporations in this field is the Reliance Industries limited, which has opened a chain of retail stores called “Reliance Fresh” in most of the major cities in India. Other Indian corporations that have gone into the retail sector are Bharti, ITC, Godrej, Big Bazaar and Subhiksha. Reliance has an ambitious agri-retail plan, variously described as “farm-to-table” or “field-to-fork” , whereby it will directly source produce from the fields, route it through its national distribution centres and bring it to the urban consumers in the ambience of air-conditioned stores displaying packaged produce under artificial illumination. Being able to handle large volumes and to absorb initial losses, they can sell cheap and therefore undercut the market, pushing small vendors and groceries out of business, as happened over most of USA. Once a monopoly is set up, they can increase prices at their will. On the other hand, by handling the entire supply chain, and probably by going into corporate farming in the near future, they will push numerous people involved in the production, procurement and transportation of retail goods out of their means of livelihood. This is probably going to spell disaster for the large number of people employed in the retail sector.

As Reliance Fresh outlets started operating in a number of major cities, small-scale vegetable and fruit sellers started reporting reductions in sales by as much as 40% within a few days. Protests erupted in May in a number of cities such as Ranchi, Patna, Indore, Jaipur and Delhi. Protesters, mostly comprising of vegetable vendors and fruit sellers, picketed Reliance Fresh outlets or went on hunger strikes. The protests had turned violent in Ranchi and Indore, and the protesters were beaten up by the police. In Chennai (Madras), there was a protest march on May Day that proceeded from the wholesale Koyambedu market, which is suffering huge losses due to the opening of Reliance Fresh, to the Reliance Fresh shop, where the protestors were arrested. These protests by small retailers, to protect their livelihood and to prevent their being pushed into extinction, are spreading and need to be supported and organized into the general struggle against neo-liberal economic policies unfolding in India.

In West Bengal, ruled by the Left Front, led by the so-called Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM), which is a darling of capitalists in India and abroad because of its abject surrender to all their demands, the situation is developing along a different trajectory. Reliance has been trying to enter the retail market in Bengal as a part of their Rs 25,000 crore national roll-out, but has been opposed not only by the people of the state but even by the non-CPIM parties in the Left Front. A major obstacle in their path has been the fact that the agriculture marketing department of the West Bengal government, which is the relevant authority in this sector, is controlled by a minister from the Forward Bloc, a junior partner in the government which is much closer to the people on this issue than the CPIM. To circumvent this obstacle, Reliance had tried to put a food-processing tag to its national distribution centres, as the food processing department is controlled by the CPIM. As this tussle
continued between the two parties in the Left Front, Reliance found another way to penetrate the market in West Bengal. The municipal corporation in the West Bengal state capital of Kolkata (Kolkata municipal corporation, KMC), controlled by the CPIM, declared in May that it was going to hand over a major market in the city, the Park Circus market, to Reliance on a ninety-nine year lease. This was part of a process in which bids had been called for renovating and rebuilding this 76-year old market located in a prime location in the city, for which Reliance had emerged as the highest bidder.

The same process is supposed to happen for all the KMC-owned markets of the city. These civic markets of Kolkata, referred to locally as “bazaars”, are not only the sources of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people, they are also an organic part of the culture of this teeming city of millions. These are places where buyers and vendors directly interact with each other, and where farmers and fisher-folk from the outskirts of the city bring their produce, helping sustain the economy of the entire hinterland of Kolkata, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In face of opposition in the KMC legislature, and from the agriculture marketing minister of the Forward Bloc who wanted the job of developing the civic markets to be transferred to the agriculture marketing board, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, the CPIM mayor of the KMC, declared that Reliance would only be responsible for rebuilding and renovating the Park Circus market, not in using it for their retail trade. However, the proposal that was passed by a majority vote in the CPIM controlled KMC legislature states that Reliance “shall have the right of usage” of its portion for commercial purposes like “markets, offices, seminar halls, multiplexes, restaurants, entertainment hubs, etc, or for any other purpose as mutually agreed upon by the KMC and the private partner”.

According to the plan, 150,000 square feet of the renovated market will go to Reliance on a 99-year lease, whereas the rest 55,000 square feet will go to KMC and existing stall owners. This again seems to be a case of doublespeak by the CPIM, where the mayor declares that Reliance would not use the Park Circus market to get into the retail trade but the actual agreement with the company does not explicitly say so on paper.

When asked about the protests by the traders who have been carrying out their business in the Park Circus market for generations, the mayor is reported to have said “The traders have no right to oppose the civic body’s decision to hand over the Park Circus market to a private party. If they don’t accept our decision, they are free to carry on their trade somewhere else.”

In addition, when reminded about the plight of small vendors, a large number of whom sell their stuff in and around the market, the mayor had to say “KMC is not responsible for the future of these vendors. They will have to fend for themselves once the new and improved market is constructed,” This portrays the callous disregard of the CPIM for the lives and livelihoods of these people who not only depend on this market as their source of income, but have also developed close, mutually helpful relationships with the regular buyers of the market.

The corporatization of Kolkata’s markets is another neo-liberal assault by the CPIM on the people of Bengal in the name of development. This would result in the handing of public assets, maintained on tax-payers’ money and sustaining huge numbers of working people, on a platter to corporations. Opposition against it needs to be built up among all sections of the people, and the small traders and vendors who are at the receiving end of this policy, needs to be supported as part of the general struggle against capitalist development being thrust over the people of India. Another imperative is the proposition of alternative models for the solution of this issue.

It is plausible that the KMC is unable to maintain these markets out of its limited finances. The disturbing thing is that the only solution that is part of the dominant discourse is the handing over of these markets to private operators. The possibility that the small traders and retailers, who carry out their trade from the market, might be able to get together and mobilize finances to buy or lease out the market is not even being explored. This would not only prevent the wiping out of their source of livelihood, but would also make them stakeholders in it. Such alternative possibilities need to be constantly raised as part of the discourse in order to resist the neo-liberal policies being imposed by the CPIM in West Bengal.

http://sanhati.com/front-page/325/

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Mahishadal – SEZ war looms over proposed Chemical Hub

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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.

http://sanhati.com/news/301/

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Rejoinder to Amartya Sen’s interview in The Telegraph, July 23

By Prof. Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri (Retired from Presidency College, Kolkata)

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Professor Amartya Sen’s interview (The Telgraph,, July 23) makes us sad.

1. “The market economy has many imperfections, on which I have written extensively. But it also creates jobs and incomes, and if the income goes up, government revenues go up, so there is money available for education and healthcare and other things.” So said Amartya Sen.

Textbook (neoclassical) economics is a strange discipline. It is timeless. There is a history of economic thought but no history of economic phenomena. Prof Sen has given above a perfect textbook lecture, which he applies, in the best traditions of textbook economics, equally to the early capitalism of 17th century England, the colonial economy of 19th century Bengal, and the late capitalism of present-day India.

Centuries have rolled by, nevertheless, and the lecture given above has become irrelevant in the era of “Jobless Growth.”
The burden of Prof Sen’s intervention is that the present inflow of big capital into West Bengal will bring jobs.
How many jobs, Prof. Sen?

The water tank manufacturers Patton proposed a 13 million dollar investment in Falta SEZ in July, 2006, employing 250 people — 3 to 4 jobs per crore of rupees investment.

In 2003 the refined petroleum goods industry in West Bengal (which includes Haldia Petrochemicals) had a fixed capital of Rs 2178.21 crores (total investment — Rs 3359.05 crores) and 6610 employees — 3 jobs per crore of rupees of fixed capital and 2 jobs per crore of rupees of investment.

Lakhs of jobs downstream had been promised. Haldia Petrochemicals went into production in 2000. Up to 2003-04 the plastics industry showed 6643 employees, many, no doubt, from pre-2000 days.
How many people will the Tatas employ in Singur? Nobody knows, not even Prof. Sen. It is almost a state secret. But this we know. The Tata Indica (car) factory employs 250 people, and not one of them comes from the people displaced by the factory.

The Bourbons, it is said, learnt nothing and forgot nothing. We, the talking classes of Bengal, are almost as bad. We have not forgotten B.C. Roy, but we have not learnt the lesson that

(a) implanting sporadic big plants do not lead to industrialisation (apart from Durgapur, what remains?). and

(b) in a state where the number of unemployed in 2004-05 was 33.37 lakh, even according to the conservative, formal estimate of the Finance Minister (Budget speech, 2007), a few thousands of jobs, while certainly welcome, do not provide a solution (B.C. Roy’s “industrialisation” could not prevent the 1959 food movement and the 1967 food movement. The foot-soldiers in these struggles were unemployed youth, destined to play a big part in the final ouster of Congress rule.)

The CPI(M), the media, a large section of the opposition, and Professor Sen have bypassed the main issue to concentrate on a side-issue, the use of agricultural land.

The main issue is whether the virtually jobless massive investments, being touted through ignorance (or malice, who knows?) as the solution to our economic problems, of which the most glaring and soul-destroying is that of unemployment, do really have this miraculous potential .

We have seen enough of “trickle down” since B.C. Roy’s days. We are not ready to listen to sermons, however eminent may the preacher be, to wait for the investments to give rise to jobs and income. They never do. Ask the people of Amlasole. We want an alternative model which can give jobs today, or, at least, tomorrow. Market economy has no such model, and it is painful to see one of the best minds this country has produced fumbling in the coils of that wily retiarius, the market, and promising nothing more than “trickle down”.

2. “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada, where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing.”

Where will the people move out? To industry? Alas, real life in late capitalism has little in common with the timeless textbooks of economics.

Since Prof. Sen has studied Singur, he must know what “Sanhati Udyog” has calculated. About 10,000 people will lose their livelihoods. The Tatas have clearly stated they offer no jobs. The few trainees they have picked up were also told that there was no job guarantee. So, presumably these 10000 people, among whom are agricultural labourers, bargadars, van rickshaw pullers, small vendors, and other labourers, will have to survive, presumably on air, for at least 10 years to taste “trickle down” . Or, what nobody is articulating clearly, they are the sacrifice. They will move out.
Period. To nowhere.

Late capitalism does not have jobs in industry for people “moving out” of agriculture.

3. “..government revenues go up, so there is more money available for education, healthcare and other things.”

It is strange hearing these words, linking the market to education or healthcare, from the initiator of The Pratichi Trust’s surveys of primary education and healthcare in West Bengal. He should know better.

There is no market for millions of the literate poor. No demand. A few “Eight class Pass-walas” will suffice for the market. So, the government will never be overly worried about mass literacy, drop-outs, a proper education for millions. The money may even be there. But it will be spent on other things. The latest proof is the fizzle-down of the “neighbourhood school” based “education for all” proposal and its replacement by Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, which has degenerated, at least in this state, into nothing more than some forced spending without policy or direction.

In spite of Prof Sen’s forceful expositions, may be, his life-work, capital and governments continue to regard female health, children’s health, and, in general, community health as non-marketable stuff, just as they regard a proper education for all. No demand . No government expenditure.

So, Prof Sen’s premisses don’t hold out to the end. The investments will bring profits to big capital, and some taxes to the government (provided the target is not in a SEZ). The few employees will get good pay, perhaps. That is all. The overall unemployment picture will not change, quality of life outside the factory enclave will continue at its worst.

We need something else, and it is disappointing to find that Amartya Sen cannot help us with ideas for this.

4. “The government’s policing has been in some cases over-strong……It is possible that in the past, the violence committed by the government was greater, but from what I hear, it is possible the opposite might be the case now.”

Does the “some cases” include Nandigram? Although Prof. Sen has “not studied it in the way ” he has “studied Singur”, he reads newspapers and, may be, looks at the TV. Is he at peace with what he read and, maybe, viewed on the TV?

I had the honour and misfortune to help in a minor way Justice Bhargava’s tribunal on Nandigram. Rape, stuffing rods into the female sex organ, shooting into a retreating crowd of women and children — these are some of the material to be found in the depositions before the tribunal. A spot of “over-policing”, no doubt. And, pray, what acts even the scatter-brained opposition of ours has been perpetrating “now”, which is “greater”, from what Prof Sen hears, than this violence?

Of course, Laxman Seth says that these are lies, because no raped woman would talk of it, and Laxman Seth is an honourable man.

Perhaps we should remain at Singur. But, there, too, I fail to recollect any act of the opposition which can match the murder of Tapasi Malik., or have the opposition taken to burning chowkidars of Tata’s Wall in secret? Of course, Tapasi Malik was not killed by policemen, and both the interviewer and the interviewed steered clear of the acts of the CPI(M). So, Prof Sen might claim a caveat on this issue, too.

But, this part of the interview leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

5. Let us come finally to the issue the interviewer and the professor found important: the use of agricultural land for industry. The main question here is not economic, it is one of rights. It may be good economics, or unavoidable economics. But has a citizen of India, who owns land, the right to say No to a package he considers inadequate in compensation for his land? Prof Sen shows that a better and fairer package should have been offered in Singur, and talks of the ‘tactical’ mistake of the government. But, nowhere does he say, in so many words, that the citizen has a right to his land, the right to say No. He reminds us ” it is very important in a free country, any people can come in and go out from any place they like and you cannot establish restriction of movement either by the goveenment or the Opposition.” Quite. But, in a free country, presumably, it is quite in order to take away land from the owner by a simple notification of the government (we all know about the 1894 imperial law).

Even the rulers in Delhi are mulling over demands for setting up a National Rehabilitation Commission without whose approval no displacement of people will be allowed in any project. Prof Sen opposes bureaucratic directives to capital of the kind ” I want it in Siliguri and Bankura but not here”, but we are sad to observe that he does not once say that the real mistake of the government was a bureaucratic one in Singur, too, because the would-be-dispossessed were not adequately consulted (a point even conceded by Jyoti Basu). In fact, the government emphasises that, under the 1894 law, consultation is not mandatory. Prof Sen wants the government to correct its tactical mistake regarding the value of the land in future deals, but presumably this, too, will be a unilateral action by the government, for nowhere is it mentioned that the affected are also to be consulted. So, bureaucracy (which earned a strict NoNo in dealing with capital) seems okay in dealing with the affected people.

We are indeed sad, for this we did not expect from Amartya Sen.

http://sanhati.com/front-page/321/

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U-Turn of Industrial Policy Erodes the Very Base of Agriculture

By Abhijit Guha, translated by Debarshi Das (Sanhati)
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“Destination West Bengal”: this is the rather pompous sounding slogan which the Left Front government of West Bengal has used since it made a U-turn in the 1990s, and started on a reverse course from its earlier incomplete task of land reform. To investigate the possibilities of industrialisation the state government all of a sudden appointed McKinsey, a multinational consultancy group. The booklet titled “Destination West Bengal” is in fact based on McKinsey report. Curiously, this is the Left Front government, taking out processions, organising meetings protesting entry of multinational corporations all the time – which called in McKinsey. Could not the faculty members of Indian Statistical Institute or Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, who are renowned internationally, perform the same job that was handed over to McKinsey?

If one browses through the book one finds that in the last twenty years there has been wonderful political stability in the state and that the state government in its 1994 industrial policy has welcomed the privately owned industries. Some of the achievements of state government have been described eloquently in the first part of the booklet. In the last five years the growth rate of West Bengal has been satisfactory. High agricultural growth has been the primary reason for this. It has been pointed out that during 1995-96 the growth rate of West Bengal has been higher than the national average. In agriculture, especially in foodgrain production, the success is said to be remarkable. During the period 1982-83 to 1992-93 food grain production growth rate in West Bengal has been the highest among Indian states. As a consequence, there has been substantial rise in the purchasing power of the people of the state. The rest of the booklet “Destination: West Bengal” discusses, in a rather attractive manner, how industrialisation will proceed in a number of areas of the state. These areas are, Siliguri, Dankuni, Salt Lake, Kalyani, Asansole, Durgapur, Kharagpur, Bantala, Haldia, Falta etc. In the final section of the book (“Look, Who All are There”) we find names of a host of Japanese multinational firms. They will invest in West Bengal. After that, spanning three pages there is a list of big multinational corporations from USA, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, Austria, South Korea, UK which have invested in West Bengal. Is the whole world inside the briefcase of WBIDC, or is the entire Bengal within the suitcase of foreign capitalists?

The so called backward regions of Medinipur which were selected for industrialisation (due to the industrial policy) are Haldia and Kharagpur rural regions in the East Medinipur and West Medinipur districts respectively. Large tracts of agricultural lands were acquired for industrialisation purposes in these two areas. During 1991 – 1997 much more land were acquired in these regions compared to what is being grabbed at Singur. However, apart from a few local agitations and reports or writings on local newspapers, not much had happened.

Let us have a look at the land acquisition of the undivided Medinipur district. 14,319.40 acres of land were taken in the undivided Medinipur during 1991 to 1997 – for various reason, chiefly for industries. Immediately after the central government announced its policy of liberalisation, the Left Front government of West Bengal started acquiring vast tracts of land for industrialisation, in a district which is almost completely dependent on agriculture. Data tell us that the concern of the Left government for improvement of agriculture or adequate irrigation facilities or rehabilitation for the displaced was becoming less and less noticeable in the era of liberalisation.

The government started acquiring land on a massive scale for urbanisation, industries, tourism. Village based decentralised development, land reform, rural planning by the villagers were at the receiving end. Haldia Port and Haldia industrialisation, Kolaghat thermoelectric plant and much later pig iron industries in Kharagpur: these issues were raised at the state assembly. An informative and well-organised report on land acquisition of the undivided Medinipur district was prepared by the district administration in 1993. It never got published. What was revealed in this report is truly horrifying. On the contemporary land acquisition in the district it said there have been as many as 293 cases of incomplete land acquisitions. Many of the governmental organisations or the private concerns for which the government had acquired land, were not depositing the money (required to pay the compensation) with the government. Despite repeated notices sent by the land acquisition department, there has been complete silence from their side. Farmers who had lost land were left with no compensation. In case of delays in paying compensation to the government, the concerned organisation is required to pay interest at the rate of 9% per annum for the first year and 15% per annum from the next year onwards. This sum alone adds up to Rs. 260 millions. The government irrigation department is the highest defaulter, the amount is Rs, 14,54,20,607. The public works department comes second in the list. It had got lands acquired for building roads – but no road has come up. It has a pending sum of Rs. 8,19,81,577. After this we have South-eastern Railways, Agricultural Marketing, Agriculture, Public Health and Technology departments. The report also mentions that those organisations which did not pay have already constructed buildings on the land, or have built fragments of a road or have dug an irrigation canal. If these lands are to be returned to their previous owners they will be not in their formal state. Courtesy government propaganda, land acquisition for development may seem to be a quick administrative process. The inside story is pretty terrible.

The new industrial policy of the state government harms the base of agriculture of the state. The main line of the new industrial policy is: due to land reform and growth in agriculture there has been rise in the purchasing power of the rural population. Therefore West Bengal is now a fit case for industrialisation, particularly for heavy and medium scale industries. The Left Front theoreticians have framed the new industrial policy based on this single rationale. The chief minister never gets tired of repeating this. They are forgetting that the land reform has remained incomplete. Taking back land from the pattadars (peasants who have got ownership rights of the redistributed land) and bargadars (tenants who have received proper tenancy rights) will be suicidal. This may result in the economic betterment of a small section of people, but it will also mean rising economic and social inequality. CPI(M), the main political party of the Left Front, and the small allies – CPI, RSP, Forward Bloc, who are after the ministerial berths – have chosen this suicidal course.

The state government had released the West Bengal Human Development Report in 2004. It was edited by Prof. Jayati Ghosh of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The report ends with a chapter which lists 25 suggestions on the future path that West Bengal may follow. It may be noted, in none of these 25 suggestions has it been adviced that since the state of the peasants of West Bengal has improved significantly due to land reform, its future strategy should be that of heavy and medium scale industrialisation. On the contrary, it expresses deep concern that in the recent years bargadars and pattadars are losing their land. The report, which incidentally has got messages from the chief minister and the industry minister printed on it, says in its 9th suggestion, “The government should encourage agricultural and non-agricultural based productive activities in the rural areas and in this connection government may consider forming new cooperatives.” (page 214 – 215) The model of development which the political parties of the Left Front government want to present to the people completely contradicts the research-based data and suggestions of reports of the experts committee appointed by the same government. Our humble request to those who are shouting “Agriculture is our base, industry is our future” is: please read the reports of the government of West Bengal. And think. Hollow shouting does not do any good. History has not forgiven anyone.

The author is Reader, Anthropology Department, Vidyasagar University. This article was originally published in Dainik Statesman.
http://sanhati.com/articles/198/