News Watch: Bengal

This page contains various day-to-day news items on economic and political issues appearing in independent and mainstream media.

Bengal: Panchayat Elections 2008

Hawkers sabotage Spencer’s opening in Kolkata – July 5, 2008.
Rally to protest “Maoist” labelling and arrest of students – June 10, 2008
Association for Protection of Democratic Right protests student arrest – June 8, 2008
Singur employment bluff – May 22, 2008
Suchpur massacre: CPI(M)’s sleight of hand delays justice for victims – May 18, 2008. Translated by Soumya Guhathakurta, Sanhati
Mahishadal Update: Villagers against Apeejay, Bharati venture – May 8, 2008
Clashes continue in Nandigram – May 5, 2008
The battle within – Singur updates– May 5, 2008
Nandigram to have more police, not less– May 5, 2008
Woman stripped & beaten up in Nandigram– May 5, 2008
Panchayat polls in Bengal to be a referendum on LF Govt – May 4, 2008
Chandmoni land-grab Update: RSP to demonstrate over eviction of workers in tea estate – April 27, 2008
New devotees of capitalism & Lenin’s statue – By Sankar Ray, April 23, 2008
Karat, Nandigram, and the U.S. connection: The CPIM’s misfired missive – By Sankar Ray, April 15, 2008
CPIM 19th Congress watch (4): Yes to Reliance, no to Wal-Mart – April 2, 2008
CPIM 19th Congress watch (3): CPM vetoes SEZ ban plea – April 1, 2008
CPIM 19th Congress watch (2): Retail ‘straitjacket’ doesn’t suit Bengal – March 31, 2008
CPIM 19th Congress watch (1) : Party push for Buddha drive – Draft lays stress on Bengal industry – March 30, 2008
Audit exposes panchayat lapses – March 24, 2008
Private developer Vedic Realty to acquire land for government in return for massive support – March 22, 2008
Mid-day meal implementation in Kolkata Municipal Corporation schools – March 20, 2008
Centre clears 20 SEZs in Bengal – March 20, 2008
NREGA Job data for West Bengal – March 19, 2008
High dropout rates among SC/ST students in West Bengal – March 19, 2008
CITU members beat CESC worker Ramparvesh Singh to death – March 11, 2008
Citizens protest inhuman treatment of patients at government sponsored Pavlov Hospital – March 14, 2008
Bengal lives off debt mountain – Profligate state draws up fresh plans for huge borrowings – March 16, 2008
Irrigation projects in state hit by delays, says CAG – March 17, 2008
Potato riot for storage space – February 28, 2008

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Hawkers sabotage Spencer’s opening in Kolkata

Hawkers of Gariahat prevented the inauguration of a 36,000-sq-ft Spencer’s store on Rashbehari Avenue on Friday, saying they would all be wiped out if a hypermart competed with them for customers.

Around 100 members of the Hawkers’ Sangram Committee assembled in front of the store around 9.30am, two hours before the scheduled arrival of the RPG Enterprises vice-chairman, Sanjiv Goenka. The police team that was deployed there could do little when more hawkers joined the group and stopped Goenka from entering the store to inaugurate it.

There was no violence, but the protesters made a bonfire of Spencer’s handbills. A couple of lights were broken, too, and one of the metallic letters of the address on one gate was wrenched off.

Spencer’s, the retail arm of the RPG Group, is the second food retail chain after Reliance Fresh to face the wrath of the city’s unorganised retailers.

“Once a store like this opens, 6,000 hawkers (operating along the stretch from Ballygunge railway station to Chetla bridge) will be out of employment within a year. We will not allow this to happen and will keep on protesting every time they try and open this store,” said Shaktiman Ghosh, the general secretary of the National Hawkers’ Federation and the committee that organised the protest.

With the hawkers refusing to disperse, the launch of the store was deferred to an unannounced date. Kanchan Naha, the officer-in-charge of Gariahat police station, said the RPG Group did not lodge an official complaint. “Nobody was arrested because there wasn’t any complaint.”

Goenka pointed out that Spencer’s was not a threat to “traditional” trade. “We would like to emphasise that organised retail forms only 3-4 per cent of the total food and grocery retail opportunities in India. This is not a threat to traditional trade. In fact, for more than 13 years now, we have peacefully co-existed with traditional trade. We believe this is because of the difference in product range and services we offer to our consumers,” he said.

RPG will meet the hawkers in a day or two to sort out the issue, a company official said.

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Rally to protest “Maoist” labelling and arrest of students

Reported by Sayan Kanungo, Sanhati.

On 9th June, a rally was organised in protest of the recent harrasment of 5 Jadavpur University students in their locality from Jadavpur 8b bus stand to Palbajar. People from different organisations joined the protest rally with the central slogan “If protest makes people Maoists then we all are Maoists“. The rally was very intense, with various slogans and banners. After the rally there was a street-corner in Palbajar. Activists from different organisations condemned the role of police and the ruling party (a party of police informers, in the opinion of the speakers). They also expressed their concern over the increasing fascist tendency of the government. They sharply pointed out that it was becoming a dengerous tendency in West Bengal to stamp any voice of dessent as ‘Maoist’, thus alienating them from society and encouraging police repression. Speakers also firmly mentioned that CPI(Maoist) is not a “banned organisation” in West Bengal – thus they have every right to undertake all the political activities that other parties do.

After the program the news channel “Star Ananda” organised a open talk show in Town Hall in this matter. Some of the persons (intelectuals, third stream activists, human rights activists) from the program joined the talk show. They poined out the abovementioned matters and similar instances which were unuttered in mainstream media.

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Association for Protection of Democratic Right protests student arrest

MALDA, June 8: The Association for Protection of Democratic Right, Malda unit, today staged a demonstration in English Bazaar town in protest against police harassment on five girl students in Jadavpur yesterday. The members of APDR criticized role of police for ‘terrorizing’ common people who try to speak against the establishment.

They claimed that the five girls belonged to Matangini Mohila Samiti and a few of them took part to mobilize people in Nandigram and Singur against various issues including farm land acquisition.

Ms Anwesa Sarkar, resident of Malda, was one of the five girls who were suspected women Maoist activists, according to the police and local CPI-M workers in Jadavpur.

Ms Anwesa’s mother, a local poet and writer, Mrs Tripti Santra has expressed unhappiness over the role of police and state run terrorism by police against social activists who write and speak criticizing state.

Mrs Santra was worried about security of her daughter and other four friends in Kolkata after the matter came to limelight.
Mrs Santra said: “We received phone call from the owner of the rented house, where they were lived, and the owner asked me to vacate room immediately”

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Singur employment bluff – May 22, 2008. The Statesman

Though the state government has justified the acquisition of fertile farm land in Singur by stating that the Tata Motors’ small car factory will provide both direct and indirect employment, the state directorate of employment had said that Tata Motors Limited (TML) has not notified any vacancy to any of the employment exchanges in Hooghly district so far. The information from the state labour department made it official that no large-scale direct employment would be provided in the small car factory in Singur. While replying to questions under the Right To Information Act submitted by Mr Salil Kapat, convener of Indian Society for the Fundamental and Human Rights, the deputy director of employment of state labour department, stated: “As is revealed from the deputy director of employment, Hooghly, Tata Motors Limited has not notified vacany/vacancies to any of the employment exchanges in Hooghly district.”

Mr Kapat had asked whether TML ever intimated to the state labour department as to how they would recruit prospective employees for their factory at Singur and whether Tata Motors ever approached any of the employment exchanges for personnel recruitment for their proposed small car factory. However, the reply sent to Mr Kapat on 16 May revealed that Tata Motors is yet to approach the local employment exchanges for recruiting local residents for its Singur factory.

Earlier, Mr Nirupam Sen, state commerce and industries minister, had claimed that all 180 students from the land-loser families in Singur had undergone training in various Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and were absorbed in either the Pune factory of Tata Motors or other subsidiaries of the group. The minister also said some had even refused a job.

Though Mr Sen, to be fair, had never promised large-scale recruitment for the car factory, the letter from the labour department has made it official that apart from the few students from land-loser families who have undergone training in the ITIs, there is little hope for common or garden variety of residents of Singur as far as gainful employment at the TML factory is concerned.

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Suchpur massacre: CPI(M)’s sleight of hand delays justice for victims

By Manas Ghosh, Doinik Statesman, Kolkata, 15 May 2008. Translated by Soumya Guhathakurta, Sanhati

For the past two years, the reign of terror unleashed by the Government of West Bengal and CPI(M) in Singur and Nandigram has drawn headline attention through the length and breadth of the country. However, long before these events unfolded, surreptitious efforts were on to interfere with the course of justice in Suri court (administrative head quarters of Birbhum district, West Bengal) by the state administration under the directives of CPI(M), to save from punishment the perpetrators of the heinous massacre at Suchpur, Birbhum.

The Suchpur massacre ranks the most heinous amongst all the heinous crimes committed by the CPI(M) during the 31 years of Left Front government in West Bengal.

The year was 2000. 11 poverty-struck Muslim agricultural labourers were murdered in broad day light under the leadership of Nityaranjan Chattopadhyay (CPI(M) member, influential leader of Nanur, member of Birbhum Zilla Parishad). Their throats were axed and slit with tangi (battle axe) and hanshua (crescent shaped knife) and their heads were smashed with stone slabs. 8 years since the fateful day, the trial is still on and doubts keep creeping in whether delayed justice will at all be delivered.

Delayed and in the end undelivered justice is an oft-repeated trend. The Kot massacre of 26 years ago carried out by CPI(M) in Kot village of the same district has not seen the light of justice. In Kot, CPI(M) members and supporters carried out a pre-planned massacre of 7 Muslim preachers after branding them as ‘Gonoshotru’ (or enemy of the people). They were first snuffed out of their tenements by burning sacks filled with dried red chilly and then butchered the moment they stepped out in the open. This reprehensible case is yet to be solved and is still in the stage of recording the witness’ evidence. The culprits have not only gone scot free but they have been going around since then carrying on with the party’s terror agenda.

Relatives of the victims of the Suchpur massacre have ample reasons to be apprehensive that the delayed justice will finally be denied. The hearing of this mass massacre case has been postponed not less than 80 times which is a record by itself.

In most cases the postponement was deliberate, even as Justice Debiprasad Sengupta of Calcutta High Court by his ruling dated 23 March 2005 had ordered a fast track adjudication of the case within the following six months. In spite of this directive, the case has hardly moved during the past three years. The reason for the slow pace was the transfer of five additional district judges during this period. As a result, leave alone a quick adjudication, the case is yet to reach the stage of examining the witnesses.

Whenever the judges have attempted to speed up proceedings, they have been abruptly served with transfer orders. These steps have been taken to delay the process of justice – every time a judge is transferred, the new incumbent has used the court’s time to take a look afresh at the details of the massacre and the legal proceedings thereafter. This state of affairs indicates that there is a deeper conspiracy at work, a conspiracy to delay the process of justice.

Tellingly, these delaying acts have been orchestrated to coincide with the 2004 Lok Sabha elctions, 2006 West Bengal assembly elections and 2008 panchayat elections. This orchestration has been necessary to ensure that the judges remain far away from a position from where they can quickly come to a verdict. The ruling party obviously apprehends that the verdict will go against them and that this is bound to adversely affect their electoral prospects.

Suchpur is a part of Nanur Vidhan sabha and Bolpur Lok sabha constituency. It is an extremely impoverished, under developed village and ‘Brand Buddha’ development has not even reached any place near Suchpur. The Bolpur Lok sabha constituency is represented by Somnath Chatterjee – speaker, Lok Sabha. After the massacre of the Muslim agricultural workers, he had the gumption to call them “dacoits”.

His and the Party’s version is that the massacre was the consequence of ‘dacoits’ from a neighbouring district becoming victim to ‘unrestrained public anger’. This ‘appropriate expression of public anger’ was under the leadership of Nityaranjan Chattopadhyay who is close to Somnath Chattopadhyay. To legitimise this version of Somnath Chattopadhyay, police charged the victims and their families with cases of robbery, attempted murder, molestation and snatching. Fraudulent means were adopted while recording the time of the robbery in order to establish that the robbery case was filed and recorded before the occurrence of the massacre. This was done to establish that the Suchpur massacre was a result of a ‘spontaneous outburst of public anger’.

However, Somnath Chattopadhyay’s effort in cooking up a cock-and-bull story of dacoits and their public punishment has not cut ice with the people and perhaps neither with the judiciary.

The most shameful aspect of the Suchpur episode has been the efforts of the ruling party and its crony administration to purposefully and jointly obstruct the course of justice and also to actively scale down the esteem of the judiciary in the public eye. This vicious game can be understood from the sequential steps taken with the objective to shield the perpetrators of the heinous crime by crippling the judicial process to reduce the trial to a farce. This is being done to ensure that the prime accused like Nityaranjan Chattopadhyay and others are kept out of the reach of law so that they can operate with impunity and carry on with their terror activities. The chorus leader of this musical has been barrister Somnath Chattopadhyay who sits today as the speaker of the Parliament and daily utters homilies on the virtues of impartiality.

The desperation of the ruling party and the administration to defeat the judicial process can be gauged from their extreme noncooperation with the judiciary. During the past three years the hearing of the case has been deliberately stayed at the least forty times. The noncooperation of police and administration with judiciary is politically motivated. The main duty of police and administration is to always be on the side of law and justice and to carry out the orders of judiciary but in this case it has been seen that they have been actively subverting the process of law. Police and administration is dutifully bound to produce the accused and government witnesses, as per summons issued by judiciary, to the court on the date of the trial in order to maintain the pace of the proceedings. However, in this case it has been seen that police and administration have always managed to get away though they are guilty of contempt of court.

The most blatant example of police and administration’s subverting the process of law is the case of the four doctors of Bolpur government hospital who performed the post-mortem autopsy on the 11 victims of the mass massacre. During the 7 months when the court recorded the witness’ evidence, these four doctors were not present with their report. The date of recording the doctors’ evidence was deferred not less than seven times on the flimsy pretext that the doctors had not received the summons. The court resorted to sending the summons through the Directorate of Health Services located at Writers Building but the efforts came to nought.

The judge repeatedly asked the police and administration to trace the summons but there was no result. The helplessness of the judiciary, in this case, will be evident from the fact that the court finally issued summon in the name of the Directorate of Health Services. That efforts were on to delay and subvert the process of law was clear to all including the judge presiding over the proceedings.

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Mahishadal Update: Villagers against Apeejay, Bharati venture – Biswabrata Goswami, The Statesman

May 8, 2008

GEONKHALI (Midnapore East, WB): The embers of protest have spread to Mahisadal because of a proposed ship-building industry here. After Singur and Nandigram, chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may face a fresh stir in Geonkhali villages of Mahisadal block in Midnapore East district, as residents of Bhangagora, Deulpota, Badur, Babupur and Hariballavpur have rejected his proposal to part with their agricultural holdings to make way for a ship-building factory to be set up by the Apeejay and Bharati groups. Mr Bhattacharjee recently urged the villagers to give up their land for the project while campaigning in Mahisadal.

Mr Bhattacharjee had been listening to villagers’ concerns at the election rally when he posed: “Do you agree to part with your land to help set up a shipping industry here?” Most of the people at the rally replied: “Yes!” in chorus. The day after, this correspondent visited these villages and spoke to people irrespective of their political affiliation. A straw poll based on extensive travelling revealed that more than 60 per cent of the villagers, many of whom were supporters of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), were very clear about resisting any move to acquire farmland for setting up any industry, whatever the quantum of compensation.

And, while many CPI-M supporters said they were open to the chief minister’s proposal provided the compensation package was announced first, a significant minority seemed against the project. The CPI-M supporters for the project, however conditionally, demanded permanent employment for at least one member of each displaced family other than proper rehabilitation and compensation. “We are ready to part with our farmland only if these three conditions are met. Otherwise we’ll fight the land acquisition drive tooth and nail,” Sheikh Alauddin, the CPI-M’s Badur branch committee secretary and owner of two brick kilns, said. Sheikh Muslem Ali, a CPI-M member of the Badur gram panchayat and Mr Matiur Rahman, a prominent CPI-M leader here, also echoed Sheikh Alauddin. So did Mr Niranjan Mondol, a 73-year-old CPI-M supporter of Bhangagora village, where nearly 400 families reside.

Mr Nabin Mondol, a resident of Tentulberia, said: “The land is fertile here and should not be wasted setting up industries. Also, we have no faith in the government’s compensation policy. The last time we had parted with our land ~ between 1981 and 1984 ~ for a PHE water project in Tentulberia, the displaced persons were neither adequately compensated nor offered employment. This time too, I don’t see the government doing anything differently. ”

Mr Chandan Prasad Guria, a BUPC supporter of Badur village, ruled out any negotiation with the government. “We will oppose land acquisition,” he said firmly. He said a cooperative ~ Dharmapur Samaj Kalyan Samabay Krisi Unnayan Samity ~ sanctioned loans to betel farmers who took as much as Rs 70 lakh on credit and repaid the amount after the year’s yield. “The Samity has a tie-up with the Tamluk Ghatal Central Cooperative Bank. For the past 20 years, there’s been little or no default,” society director Mr Kanailal Maity, a resident of Deulpota, said. “If the region is doing so well agriculturally, why single it out for industrialisation?” Mr Buddha Bhowmik, a Trinamul leader, wanted to know.

But the local CPI-M MP, Mr Laxman Seth, seems determined not to let the locals’ sentiments come in the way of his plans for the region. He has already asked the BSNL chief general manager to extend services to the Geonkhali villages and Nayachar within a year. A BSNL team recently visited these places. Mr Soumyo Roy, the chief general manager of BSNL who was recently in Haldia, said: “We will connect all industries in Haldia and its surrounding areas where industries are proposed with optic fibres to ensure uninterrupted telecom and data services.”

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Clashes continue in Nandigram : The Statesman

May 5, 2008

NANDIGRAM: Amidst the visit of a team of intellectuals to Nandigram, clashes continued today at several villages leaving several persons injured, including two Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) members who were shot at.

A few houses of BUPC supporters at Gokulnagar, Simulkundu, Sonachura, Kalicharanpur Kanungochawk and Adhikaripara were also vandalised by armed goons alleged to be CPI-M cadres at 12.30 p.m. today.

The injured people could not be brought to hospital immediately as the attackers kept the villages encircled for a few hours.
Threats from CPI-M cadres have compelled many rival supporters to flee their houses and they have taken shelter in make-shift camps set up at Nandigram and other areas.

BUPC leaders alleged that the Nandigram police had taken a partisan role during today’s incidents. Even, the CRPF jawans were prevented from taking action by the Nandigram OC, the leaders charged.

According to the locals who have taken shelter at Nandigram, a group of CPI-M cadres along with some outsiders sneaked into Sonachura village from Khejuri side, then started firing indiscriminately and hurling bombs.

When they attacked Maitypara, two villagers in a field were shot and injured. But none of the villagers dared to come to their aid and so they were left unattended there for hours.

Another group of CPI-M workers unleashed a reign of terror in the nearby villages of Gokulnagar, Simulkundu, Adhikaripara and Kanungochawk, BUPC leaders alleged.

The CPI-M’s district secretariat member Mr Ashok Guria countered with the allegation that Trinamul Congress workers attacked local party leader Mr Phani Jana at Balarampur last night. “They fired two rounds at him and later beat him up. Many of our supporters in Rainagar and Balarampur areas have fled from their houses and taken shelter at Boya,” he said.
The district superintendent of police Mr SS Panda meanwhile disparaged media reports of violence in the area, saying the situation is as serious as is being described.

“I have no reports that two people were shot at. The police are frequently patrolling the areas and the situation is under control,” he said.

Meanwhile, members of the Forum of Artistes, Cultural Activists and Intellectuals and Swajan headed by artist Subhaprasanna, poet Tarun Sanyal and playwright Saoli Mitra met the Nandigram BDO Mr Santiram Ghorai and submitted a memorandum expressing concern over the deteriorating law and order situation in Nandigram ahead of the panchayat polls. They also submitted a memorandum to the CRPF authorities in Nandigram. They demanded a peaceful poll and security for the common people in Nandigram.

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The battle within

May 5, 2008

CHINSURAH: Support the “police atrocities” on farmers who have been opposing the alleged “forceful” acquisition of farmland in Singur or face consequences.

This seems to be the message the CPI-M wants to convey, even to its own supporters in Singur. CPI-M cadres allegedly destroyed field crops of two active members of DYFI ~ the CPI-M’s youth wing ~ who had opposed the atrocities.

Mr Tarun Majhi, a resident of Raghunathpur in Singur has told police officers that some of his party colleagues have destroyed vegetables in his farmland last Saturday night for refusing to take part in the poll campaign for the CPI-M.

“Majhi had decided not to support the CPI-M as he couldn’t accept the manner in which farmland was acquired for the Tata Motors small car factory. He earned the wrath of his party colleagues after he had raised objection to the police atrocities on farmers,” said a police officer.

“Majhi had informed me that his field crop was destroyed. We have inquired into the allegations. Those who destroyed field crops have been identified. We couldn’t arrest them because Majhi told the police verbally and no written complaint had been lodged,” said Mr Priyabrata Baxi, officer-in-charge of Singur police station.

Mr Gobindo Sanki, another DYFI activist hailing from Raghunathpur village in Singur, has met with the same fate for supporting the farmers spearheading a movement against “forceful land grab”. Some unidentified people, allegedly backed by local CPI-M leaders destroyed crops in his 25-cottah farmland on Sunday night for opposing the Singur “land grab”, Mr Becharam Manna, convener of the Singur Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee (SKJRC) alleged.

“CPI-M cadres destroyed field crops after Mr Sanki, had said openly that he wouldn’t attend the CPI-M rally. He had protested against the murder of Tapasi Malik,” Mr Manna said. Mr Baxi, said, Mr Sanki has not reported the incident.
Mr Manna alleged that CPI-M cadres had set a shop of a SKJRC supporter on fire at Dobandhi village near the small car project site on Wednesday night for the same reason. “No action has been taken against the accused CPI-M cadres despite a complaint being lodged with police,” he said.

Mr Balai Sanpui, CPI-M Hooghly district committee member said Opposition leaders had a malicious campaign against the CPI-M. “Both Majhi and Sanki are our supporters. The incidents are a fallout of a family feud.”

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Nandigram to have more police, not less

Home secy rules out withdrawing forces from land-war zone & Maoist-hit areas before polls.

Calcutta, May 5: The government today ruled out any possible scaling down of the police presence in Nandigram before the May 11-18 panchayat polls.

Home secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti said more forces would be sent to the land-war zone to ensure peaceful elections.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today held a meeting with Chakrabarti, chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb and director-general of police A.B. Vohra to discuss law and order in the run-up to the polls.

The home secretary will visit Midnapore town tomorrow for an update on the continuing trouble in Nandigram and discuss poll preparations in East and West Midnapore.

“I would definitely discuss the latest developments in Nandigram and its adjacent places as I am aware of the trouble brewing there. But there’s no question of withdrawing or reducing forces stationed there. Rather, the forces will have to be supplemented,” Chakrabarti said.

The East Midnapore superintendent of police, S.S. Panda, however, said tonight that according to a circular issued on Saturday, some of the police personnel posted in Nandigram were to be pulled out for deployment elsewhere. “If the government has now decided not to withdraw the forces, we’ll abide by that,” he added

The home secretary said: “As in Nandigram, there is no question of pulling out forces from Maoist-hit Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore and Birbhum. They have to be increased.”

Chakrabarti said it would be impossible to deploy armed personnel at each of the 47,000-plus polling booths. “We are expecting only five to seven companies of central forces and about 22 companies from other states. Elections in Karnataka and law-and-order problems in Bihar, Jharkhand and other states have denied us a larger non-Bengal force,” he said.

The home secretary, however, promised armed personnel at all sensitive booths. All Nandigram booths have been tagged sensitive.

Bengal has a 36,000-strong police force, of which around 14,000 would be deployed for the rural elections. The government also wants the services of 25,000 to 30,000 home guards.

The state election commission today ordered a probe into complaints of CPM intimidation by a group of Trinamul Congress candidates from Nandigram. Over 40 of them demonstrated in front of the poll panel’s Rawdon Square office in Calcutta for over four hours.

The East Midnapore district magistrate has been told to conduct a probe and send a report by tomorrow, panel secretary S.N. Roychowdhury said.

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Woman stripped & beaten up in NandigramThe Statesman

May 5, 2008

NANDIGRAM, May 5: A 35-year-old woman was stripped, slapped, beaten up and harassed at gun-point in presence of her six-year-old son by a group of armed men, allegedly backed by the CPI-M at Keyakhali village in Nandigram early this morning. The attackers abducted her husband and elder son and threw her younger son into a nearby pond. Later, the boy was rescued by his uncle. The housewife is undergoing treatment at the Nandigram block hospital. The attending doctor said: “She is mentally shattered as she was physically assaulted after being stripped.”

The victim said: “They (CPI-M cadres with local and outside workers) came to my house around 4 a.m. today. They threatened me and my family members with dire-consequences and asked us to leave the village immediately. They then went away to return a few minutes later. They abused me and dragged out my husband and my elder son from the house. They physically harassed me and beat me up with lathis and rifle-butts. and threatened to kill me. They caught me as I reached Bankimnagar. They slapped me and gave me a saree I refused to take it because it was not my saree but they forced me to wear it.”

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Panchayat polls in Bengal to be a referendum on LF Govt The Hindu

May 4, 2008

Kolkata (PTI): West Bengal will go for panchayat polls next week in what could be a referendum on the Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee government’s land acquisition policy in the backdrop of Nandigram and Singur controversies.

A Left success will provide an impetus to the government’s industrialisation drive and allay fears that farmers were apprehensive of their farm land being acquired for industries.

With Lok Sabha elections scheduled next year, the panchayat elections were crucial in the Left-ruled state where the Marxists dominate most of the zila parishads and panchayats.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee, union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee have been campaigning for their parties.

Nandigram, needless to say, has overshadowed local issues.

The Trinamool Congress is pinning hopes on the advantage the party has been able to extract from Nandigram, while the Congress has got a boost following party president Sonia Gandhi’s recent visit to the state.

Left Front partner RSP feels CPI(M) would hardly be able to get out of the Nandigram controversy.

“Farmers fear that CPI(M) will grab their land after the panchayat elections. Nandigram has left an indelible mark that is bound to have a fallout in the polls,” said Khiti Goswami, PWD minister and senior RSP leader.

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Chandmoni land-grab Update: RSP to demonstrate over eviction of workers in tea estate

SILIGURI, April 27, 2008:

The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), would organise demonstration at several police stations in Darjeeling district on 1 May over the eviction in Chandmoni Tea Estate. Giving this information Mr Binoy Chakravarty, the Darjeeling district secretary of the party said that if the state government and the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority (SJDA) continued with their deception game with the tribal plantation labourers the situation in the tea plantations of the region might get out of the control of the government before long. “What has happened in the Darjeeling Hills because of the deception game played by the government over the years would be repeated in the tea plantations. The poor labourers in a fit of desperation may resort to violent means to ventilate their protest against the continuing game of deception being played by the state and the SJDA,” the RSP leader stated.

“The government’s stand on the issue has not been convincing. The situation in the Darjeeling Hills is an example of how the people having seen through the game are prone to react. Hills have gone out of the state control. We are apprehensive that the same would happen in the tribal dominated tea garden areas,” he added.

According to the party programme, the RSP activists would stage demonstration at Bagdogra, Phasidewa and Naxalbari police stations on the International Workers’ Day to draw the attention of the administration to the simmering discontent among the tribal plantation workers at the Chandmoni Tea Estate in view of the eviction threat by SJDA.

However, in a press release the SJDA alleged that some people with vested interests were trying to mislead a section of the workers to sabotage the rehabilitation project. “SJDA never announced that workers vacate the land in two days as some people with vested interests have made it out. What was said was that the workers come to the SJDA camp to see the list and suggest any names (which they felt have been left out) or any other suggestions.

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New devotees of capitalism & Lenin’s statue

By Sankar Ray

Eugène Edine Pottier, communard of Paris Commune of the 1870s and poet who wrote the L’Internationale will turn agonizingly in his grave when the new devotees of capitalism raise their fist with a revolutionary posture, chanting the song on 22 April in front of the statue of Vladimir Illyich Lenin in Kolkata on his 139th birthday. Yes, I mean the hypocrites – top leaders of CPI(M), India’s largest Leftist party, including three polit bureau members, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Left Front chairman Biman Bose and commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen, the new in the 17-member pack will all be there and chant the slogan, ‘Long Live Revolution’. But faintly.

The very first public meeting, addressed by Sen, was at a seminar on ‘Culture and Globalisation’, under the aegis of Spandan unit of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, West Bengal. “In order to help develop consciousness, we have to walk along the path of globalisation”, the new PBM said conceitedly. Among the participants was Harsh Neotia, CPI(M)-backed real estate tycoon who got delinked last year from the Gujarat Ambuja Cements, hived off to an MNC.

Sen, Bhattacharjee and Bose seem deliberately unaware of the growing criticism against globalization even from the non-Left circles among academics in the West in the wake of an unprecedented food crisis engulfing this planet. Michel Husson, a French economist and author of “Un pur capitalisme,” [A Pure Capitalism] in an interview to L’Humanité, French communist daily, said, “This crisis was born from the bursting of the real estate bubble and is a relatively classic phenomenon. But what’s new is the chain reaction that [was] unleashed. Financial deregulation and “securitization” led to very deep – and also extremely opaque – imbrications between investment banks and speculative funds. One rediscovers every day the scale of cumulative losses, which the IMF has just evaluated at $945 billion. The immensity of these losses explains why central banks’ interventions have been unable to arrest the movement”. The Fed, US financial regulator, slashed its rates below the inflation rate, injected liquidities, virtually purchased a big investment bank, Bear Stearns and even exchanged $200 billion in Treasury Bills for questionable mortgage loans. But all this ended in a damp squib as the real estate market continues to plunge. “Such a crisis can remain confined neither to the financial sphere nor to the United States: the United States is in recession and the IMF has just revised its forecasts for the global economy down again,” Husson added.

Queerly, honchos of A K Gopalan Bhavan, national headquarters of CPI(M) like its general secretary Prakash Karat and ideologue Sitaram Yechury defend the LF government’s new romance with globalization, ticked off by the mandarins of Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan, seat of party’s West Bengal state committee. Karat told the media and the delegates during the 19th Congress (Coimbatore: 29 March-3 April 2008) that if the LF government disallows SEZs , those investors would go to other states, while expressing general reservations against the SEZs which “ are specifically delineated duty free enclaves treated as a foreign territory for the purpose of industrial services and trade operations with exemption from customs duty and a more liberal regime in respect of other levies, foreign investment and other transactions. Domestic regulations, restrictions and infrastructure inadequacies are sought to be eliminated in the SEZs for creating an internationally competitive environment (italics added), according to a notification by the LF government in the Gazette Extraordinary on 28 June 2003. This was okayed by Sen as minister of C & I. Two years before the UPA government got the SEZ Act in the Parliament passed unopposed, LF government did it in the West Bengal State Assembly with the connotation ‘foreign territory’. Karat has to keep the M A Bhaban in good humour. After all, West Bengal, with CPI(M) in power, will continue to be CPI(M)’s biggest coffer.

The French economist stated further that capitalism today – meaning the war-mongering neo-liberal strain – “escaped all control. Struggling against its financial offshoots should lead to challenges to the absolute freedom of capital circulation, but also, more fundamentally, challenges to the growing exploitation of workers around the world. It’s necessary, in other words, to close the speculation-feeding faucet “at the source.” Unfortunately, CPI(M) which, Karat’s predecessor told the now-defunct Sunday Observer in the early 1990s, “ is the only revolutionary party in India”

When we hear from Bhattacharjee and patriarch Jyoti Basu that the Left has to reposition itself in globalization, we find an echo of the anti-Leninist booklet, Global Capitalism and American Empire, by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin who argued that globalization is “inevitable and irreversible.” Political Affairs mouthpiece of CP of USA gave a rebuff. Capitalism “will continue to internationalize itself through the process we call “globalization” which is just a euphemism for the domination of the world by a handful of powerful states dominated by financial and monopoly elites that continue to plunder the world in their own interests”, it argued.

Lenin didn’t foresee the specific historical development – “neoliberal” globalization dominated by one “superpower,” but predicted the trajectory of imperialism . But all this seems irrelevant to the CPI(M) biggies who mastered the art of lip service to Marxism-Leninism, caring little for the severed menu of auto-rickshaw drivers or peddlers “selling food from behind wood carts”. They know how to win elections. Which is why the party letter on organizing the unorganized a couple of years directed lower-committees to bring the unorganized together “boothwise”, not town/villagewise. “Parliamentary cretinism”, Marx coined one and a half century back in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

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Karat, Nandigram, and the U.S. connection: The CPIM’s misfired missive

By Sankar Ray. April 15, 2008.

The more the days roll on , the more one has the impression that the pretentiously ideological general secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) Prakash Karat gradually turns into an obedient boy of the cash-rich leaders of CPI(M)’s West Bengal unit which calls the shots from Muzaffar Ahmed Bhavan. He told newspersons at the recently held Briefing newspersons at Coimbatore during the recently-concluded 19th Congress of CPI(M) that the Bhumi Uchchhed Protirodh Committee ( Committee of Resistant against Eviction from Land) of Nandigram is inspired by the US imperialism. Flanked by West Bengal’s higher education minister Sudarshan Roy Chowdhury, a delegate, Karat referred to the of human rights violation report in India, especially Nandigram. “ It is now evident that there was something more than the issue of land”, Karat remarked, sinisterly implying that the Nandigram movement was inspired by the Bush Administration.

The other day I was watching a documentary of the Naxalbari movement, Basanter Dinguli ( Memories of Spring Thunder), written and directed Amar Bhattacharya, one of many victims of state terror for involvement in the Naxalbari struggle. The documentary relived those high-voltage days which catapulted the agrarian imperative to the national arena. Amar did a good job, leave apart our ideological differences. Sudarshan Roy Chowdhury is rightly portrayed as an ephemeral Maoist during the early period of Naxalbari revolt who went back to the CPI(M) to regain a safe life and career.

The role of US imperialism in Nandigram was recently discovered by the AITUC general secretary and CPI group leader in Lok Sabha Gurudas Dasgupta who put up the matter in zero hour in the Parliament on 14 March drawing attention to the US State Department report, 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – India. “The issue is it is India’s concern, not the US’s,” the firebrand MP said.

But what Karat, Dasgupta and Roy Chowdhury suppressed was that it is not a report, prepared by the US government, but a verbatim reproduction of a UNHCR report. It is accessible to netizens the world over. The credit line to UNHCR was there too. Karat’s feigned innocence is mischievous. Interestingly, the selective ballyhoo was not made on 11 March when it was uploaded in the US State Department’s website but on 14 March. CPI(M) polit bureau too from its national headquarters A K Gopalan Bhavan rebuked the US government -‘unnecessary and unwarranted’ and denounced reference to Nandigram. The AKG Bhavan biggies advised ‘All right thinking people to reject this contention and interference of the US government’.

The choice of 14 March was to divert attention from coverage of the first anniversary of Nandigram. The imagined link between the US imperialists and Nandigram-protesters was to give the protesters a bad name and hang them. This is not only cowardice but tendentious.

The 293-word portion on Nandigram in the UNHCR document reads, “On March 14, thousands of local villagers in the Nandigram district of West Bengal attacked police and Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPM) supporters who tried to enter an agricultural area earmarked for conversion to an industrial zone. Acting on orders from the CPM-led state government, police fired on the crowd, killing 14 individuals and injuring 45. The Kolkata High Court ordered an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), but the court later revoked the CBI’s investigative authority and asked the CBI to preserve evidence. On July 10, members of the Anti-Naxal Special Police Force killed five persons including an alleged leader of the CPI-Maoist cadre at Ammadlu village in Chikmagalur district. According to Karnataka police, all five were members of the local Naxalite unit, while human rights groups alleged that four of those killed were residents of a house caught in the crossfire. At year’s end a magisterial inquiry into the encounter was underway.

From November 6 to 11, CPM members, whom human rights groups claim had state government support and direction, conducted a violent campaign of intimidation to regain control over the Nandigram area from the BUPC. The BUPC included those opposed to the CPM’s plan to acquire local land for industry, some former CPM supporters, and opposition party workers and was backed by the Trinamul Congress, part of the West Bengal opposition. News reports and eyewitness accounts noted that CPM cadres fired on BUPC supporters and local villagers, killing at least three and injuring others, burned many houses, and engaged in numerous rapes. On November 27, journalists reported the discovery of mass graves in the area. Following a government order on December 7, the CID initiated an inquiry into the identity of the bodies”.

There is no exaggeration, but understatement. The judgment by the High Court of Calcutta, inexplicably delivered after an inordinate delay in the wake of a bigger and more cruel massacre nearly for the whole of November last year recorded 27 disappearances, 162 injured and half a dozen of rapes.

Karat, Dasgupta, Roy Chowdhury et al ought to note that the UNHCR got the Nobel Peace Prize twice for defending peace and human rights with their people working with great risks everywhere. Why don’t they pull up the UN affiliate instead of aiming at a deliberately wrong target. Dasgupta , arguably a vociferously pro-labour parliamentarian, danced to the tune of AKG Bhavan honchos. True, without CPI(M)’s support he could not and will not be an MP.

About CPI’s canine subservience, no elaboration is necessary. Its cadres lined up at the entrance of Coimbatore’s V O Chidambaram Ground, the venue of mass meeting, to greet the first procession led by Sitaram Yechury. That’s the singularly great contribution of CPI general secretary A B Bardhan to his AKG Bhavan bosses.

The UNHCR referred to the Home Ministry’s 2006-2007 Report , revealing “1,159 deaths in police custody between April and December 2006”. It makes a crisp reference to violence perpetrated by Naxalites – meaning the Maoists – in Andhra Pradesh Chhatisgarh and counter-terrorist excesses by the state too. Left MPs are deceptively silent about this. “Of the 336 individuals killed in Chhatisgarh, 93 were civilians, 170 police personnel (regular forces, as well as Special Police Officers) and 73 were alleged Naxalites. According to Andhra Pradesh police, Maoists killed 44 civilians throughout the year”. The police too “were responsible for 47 encounter killings of Maoists during the year, compared with 110 in 2006”. Militants of the United Liberation Front of Asom “killed more than 110 persons in bomb attacks in the Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Sivsagar districts of Assam”, UNHCR stated .

The official Left parties are unperturbed over the matter.

Marx – five-star communists like Karat and Yechury might have conveniently forgotten – said, “ I am human, and nothing human is alien to me” – borrowed this from Publius Terentius Afer, playwright of Roman Empire – known more as Terence (195-159 B.C).

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CPIM 19th Congress watch (4): Yes to Reliance, no to Wal-Mart

Coimbatore, April 2, 2008: Retail giants like Reliance Fresh maybe facing protests in states like Uttar Pradesh, but support for them is coming from unexpected quarters.

The Left is opening up to organised retail. And that means Indian retail companies can now open shop in Left-ruled states, like West Bengal and Kerala, without any trouble.

Months after Reliance’s organised retail plans in Left-ruled states ran into rough weather, the CPI-M’s 19 party congress is giving Indian MNCs in organised retail the thumbs up. However, the green signal comes with a rider.

The report on framework for governance for Left-ruled states asks the state governments to frame regulations. A licensing system will be followed in which municipal corporations will be entrusted to give out licenses.

It is also believed that the number of outlets will be fixed as per the population in an area. However, there will be a ceiling on floor space of outlets.

Last year, the Kerala government had threatened to bring a legislation to ban organised retail. Even West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was stopped in his tracks by the Forward Bloc, which threatened an agitation if the big corporates were allowed in the state.

The party’s green signal though, is only for the Indian corporates. Companies like Wal-Mart will still have to wait and foreign direct investment in retail is still a big no in these states.

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CPIM 19th Congress watch (3): CPM vetoes SEZ ban plea

Coimbatore, April 1: The CPM has turned down a request by a section of the party to demand a blanket ban on special economic zones (SEZs), trying out a framework that seeks to balance positions in Left-ruled states and elsewhere.

Eight delegates to the ongoing CPM congress moved an amendment to the draft political resolution asking for a total ban on SEZs but they were voted out last night. The eight were from Maharashtra and two other states where the party has been opposing SEZs.

Reflecting the compulsions of governance in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and the need to lead protest movements in states where the CPM is weak, the party opted for the middle path of seeking changes to the rules governing SEZs.

The official document asked for restrictions on the size of multi-product SEZs, strict regulation of land use, measures to safeguard workers and an end to indiscriminate tax sops.

The document does not have any reference to a total ban, keeping in mind the competition the three Left-ruled governments, especially that in Bengal, face from other states for private investments.

Already, the Bengal party committee has expressed some concern. “If we can’t develop SEZs in our state amid the fierce competition, investments in export-oriented industries would not come. We can’t allow that to happen,” a leader from Bengal said.

General secretary Prakash Karat outlined the policy framework that will guide the Left-ruled states. This is the first time the party congress is discussing such a framework, although the party has been in power for 30 years in Bengal. The violence in Nandigram and the resultant debate are being seen as the prime movers behind such an exercise.

Replying to the discussion on the resolution, Karat conceded that the party did not realise fully the “multi-dimensional dangers” SEZs posed to farmers and others. When the Left supported the SEZ bill in Parliament, it focused only on the protection of labour rights.

After the “self-criticism”, Karat conceded that the Left was not strong enough to stop SEZs across the country.

But he stressed the need for a “balance between the party’s all-India policies and that of the governments of the Left-ruled states”, sources said.

“Industrialisation is an historical imperative for post-land reforms Bengal as well as Kerala. People voted for us in three states since they believed in our development programmes. But our governments have to underline their differences with the BJP or Congress-ruled states. We have to keep in mind that the actions of our governments have a direct impact on the party and movements in other states. Working within the constraints of limited powers, our governments have to take up the challenges thrown up by the neo-liberal economy and put forward alternative policies which the rest of the party can highlight as models,” a delegate quoted Karat as telling a closed-door meeting.

Karat urged the rank and file to learn lessons and “break the barriers of neo-liberal encirclement”.

The Left governments have to make certain compromises with the market forces in some situations in a globalised economy. At the same time, “we have to wage a struggle to protect people’s interest and try to push forward our alternative policies”, the delegate quoted Karat as saying.

This is a The Telegraph report

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CPIM 19th Congress watch (2): Retail ‘straitjacket’ doesn’t suit Bengal

Coimbatore, March 31: The CPM central leadership is looking to evolve common economic policy guidelines for its state governments, but its Bengal leaders are against any “straitjacketed approach that disregards the different ground realities”.

“We believe in unity in diversity. There is an unevenness in the development of the states as well as our party’s strength across the country,” a central committee member from Bengal said.

“So no Gosplan (the central planning commission in the former Soviet Union) will work.”

The party wants its state governments to regulate the entry of big corporate groups in retail, and the Kerala government has already proposed a surcharge on the outlets of big retail chains and plans further regulatory legislation.

Asked about this, Bengal industries minister Nirupam Sen said: “We have not taken any such steps. Let’s see what to do when we return from the party congress.”

The party’s draft political resolution has cited Reliance as an example of unchecked corporate entry in retail, but the Bengal CPM is opposed to any “drastic action that would send a wrong signal to the investors”.

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has actually tried to make room for Reliance in Bengal’s retail market with an eye on possible investments by the group in sectors such as petrochemicals and natural gas.

“The party has no compulsions but the governments have. We will try to resolve the contradiction through practice. This is one of the key points that we will address in the ongoing party congress,” politburo member M.K. Pandhe said.

The CPM, to avoid accusations of doublespeak, will want its state governments to follow a set of guidelines that the party’s central committee has recommended to the Centre.

Despite its stress on uniform guidelines, the CPM, however, has accepted in its draft political organisation report that industrialisation in Kerala cannot be “on the same pattern” as in Bengal. The report appears to endorse Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive in Bengal.

“Investors are not keen to move to Kerala while Bengal is emerging as a favourite destination for industry, both foreign and domestic, partly because of the Centre’s ‘look east’ policy,” a state secretariat member from Bengal said.

“Land acquisition for special economic zones (SEZs) and industrial parks has not become a major political issue in Kerala unlike Bengal. Rural Kerala is more dependent on the money-order economy (money sent home by migrant workers) while Bengal’s population is overwhelmingly land-dependent. So we can’t follow the same prescription.”

The Bengal CPM’s state conference report, while opposing the Centre’s “indiscriminate and uncontrolled approval for SEZs”, says that “efforts have to be taken to set up some SEZs, both product-specific and multi-product, which would require less land”.

Else, it adds, “export-oriented industries would not come to the state and existing units would face closure”.

The draft political resolution and the draft political organisation report at the party congress have tried to strike a balance. They have stressed that “Left-led governments have to promote investment in industry and infrastructural development” but cautioned against “wholesale privatisation” and advised them to strengthen the public sector.

The party wants the SEZ act amended to regulate the size of multi-product SEZs, land use and tax sops, and the land acquisition act to take care of the displaced. But the documents at the party congress have been vague on the specifics of land-use policy and compensation.

“The compensation will differ from state to state, even project to project. There can’t be uniformity,” a Bengal leader said.

This is a The Telegraph report

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CPIM 19th Congress watch (1) : Party push for Buddha drive – Draft lays stress on Bengal industry

Coimbatore, March 30: The CPM is set to officially push for aggressive industrialisation in Bengal, according to a key internal document.

The drive for industrialisation will be packaged with overtures to the working class and references to agriculture growth to make it palatable to the party’s core constituency but the stress will be on the manufacturing sector.

The draft political organisation report suggests the party will modify its stand in Kerala, where, too, it is in power.

The document pitches for Bengal’s industrialisation by citing the “historical background”. It says Bengal has seen “significant development” in agriculture in the seventies and eighties but Kerala’s food production has gone down. Hence, “industrialisation in Kerala” cannot be “on the same pattern”.

The report, to be presented by general secretary Prakash Karat to the ongoing CPM congress and expected to be adopted with minor changes, seems to have endorsed Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive. At the same time, the draft takes into account the concerns of Bhattacharjee’s Kerala counterpart, V.S. Achuthanandan, who has reservations about such a thrust. For Kerala, stress has also been laid on public sector units.

The references to industrialisation are made in part II of the draft political organisation report in a section titled “The experience and role of the Left-led governments in the present situation”.

The report is expected to help the party manage contradictions between states where it is in power and in the Opposition and guide its governments in the context of the “neo-liberal policies” of the Centre.

Unlike political resolutions that are made public at the end of the congress, the contents of the political organisation report are usually not disclosed immediately.

“It is necessary to develop industry on the basis of agriculture growth,” the report points out before adding categorically: “Industrialisation is necessary for the balanced growth of the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors.”

The report specifically calls for a thrust on manufacturing and tom-toms Bengal’s success in attracting investments. “Many of the enterprises (unorganised small manufacturing units) cannot sustain and become sick or close down. It is necessary for the state to develop large and medium manufacturing enterprises. Due to the thrust given by the government, West Bengal has begun to attract large-scale investments for various industries,” the report says.

On “large-scale” land acquisition, the draft advises caution against the backdrop of Nandigram. “After the… political and administrative mistakes made, we must be all the more careful on large-scale land acquisition.”

Acutely aware of the need to protect the party’s image, the report adds: “While attracting corporate investment, we should be careful to see that they do not extract unreasonable concessions that go against public interest.… We should also tell the people that such private sector industries cannot solve the basic problems associated with the liberalised capital system.”

The report asks party-ruled governments to protect the “interests of workers”. It also wants Bengal to be made fully literate.

On big private investments in retail, the report says regulations can be framed and implemented through municipal corporations. “Both in Bengal and Kerala, this needs to be done.”

This is a The Telegraph report

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Audit exposes panchayat lapses – A The Statesman report

KOLKATA, March 24: Hundreds of panchayats, mostly controlled by the CPI-M, have been steeped in corruption and financial irregularities to the tune of crore of rupees during the past few years. The audit report on the state panchayati raj institutions, tabled in the Assembly today, has laid bare this tangled web of malpractices.

In many cases not only money provided by different Central schemes was diverted, but people living below the poverty line for whom the schemes were meant, were deprived.

In 1,573 gram panchayats Rs 37.67 crore was spent during 2004-05 towards assistance under Indira Awas Yojana (IAY) for construction and upgradation of huts, but none of the beneficiaries were from the BPL list. The scheme was specifically meant for this segment of the population. It “shows lack of internal control in selection of beneficiaries as per the guidelines of the scheme”, the report stated.

In another instance of corruption of colossal proportions, Rs 259.54 crore was given to the beneficiaries for constructing 68,245 sanitary latrines in 1,328 gram panchayats and 78,766 smokeless chullahs in 1,592 panchayats during 2004-05, but not a single such unit has come up.

During 2002-2005 11 panchayat samitis spent Rs 84.85 lakh for Central schemes under Sampoorna Gramin Rojgar Yojana (SGRY) by engaging contractors. The guidelines stipulate that no contractor can be engaged for such schemes devised for the benefit of the rural poor. Thus, the erring panchayat samitis gave undue favours to contractors with funds that could have “ensured employment generation of 82,113 mandays”, the report stated.

In another bizarre instance of irregularities, the guidelines of SGRY were twisted in such a manner that funds were spent for religious purposes though the scheme “prohibits” such use.

Two panchayat samitis of South 24-Parganas incurred expenditure to the tune of Rs 37.43 lakh for wages, materials and foodgrain valued at Rs 4.56 lakh toward wages, for constructing sheds, fencing, bus stands, road, ramps, towers and hogla sheds for the Ganga Sagar mela in 2004.

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Private developer Vedic Realty to acquire land for government in return for massive support

Kolkata March 22, 2008: In an innovative barter deal, a private developer is acquiring 600 acres of land for an IT park the West Bengal government wants to develop; in return, the government will create the support infrastructure for another 600 acres this company is developing into a township.

The deal between Vedic Realty Ltd, a Kolkata-based developer, and the state government may have been prompted by events at Nandigram and Singur, where efforts by the state to acquire land for a special economic zone (SEZ) and a Tata Motors car factory, respectively, resulted in protests by farmers unwilling to sell land. The protests were mirrored across the country where farmers opposed the acquisition of their land for SEZs and industrial projects, and forced the Central government to ask states not to acquire land on behalf of SEZ developers.

“We will buy the land and transfer it to the IT department for free. In return, the government will create infrastructure for our upcoming 600-acre township,” said Raj Modi, managing director of Vedic Realty. His company recently signed an agreement to this effect with the state’s IT department after the West Bengal cabinet approved the deal. This agreement could well serve as a template for any state government that wants to acquire land. “We aren’t calling it direct purchase, and certainly not land acquisition. We are saying Vedic will assemble 600 acres for our IT department,” a bureaucrat said on condition of anonymity.

The math of the deal does appear to favour the government, but Modi said that wasn’t the case. The 600 acres the company plans to develop into a township is in the same area where it plans to acquire land for the government’s IT park. “At the end of the day, we are going to pay some Rs1,200 crore for the 1,200 acres that we have to acquire there. You may say we have acquired half already, and we’ll have to acquire 600 acres more,” Modi said. He claimed that although he would be giving the government Rs600 crore worth of land for nothing, he would get “a seven-km road to connect the township with Kolkata, processed water and a sewage disposal facility”. He added that the company owns most, but not all the land it needs for the township because some landowners are holding out for a better price. “Under the agreement, the government will have to acquire whatever land we have not been able to acquire in the area (for the IT park as well as the township) using the Land Acquisition Act,” Modi said.

Apart from infrastructure support, the presence of a government-promoted IT park close by will likely increase the value of land in Vedic Realty’s township, where the company has already built villas and a spa resort called Vedic Village on 150 acres.

“We don’t want to get into land acquisition now. Plus the government cannot pay market price. If you pay market price, you’ll never ever get two plots for the same price. That’s a situation that a government just can’t get into—it would lead to controversy, audit, inspection…. So we got a private company to assemble the land for us,” said the bureaucrat.

West Bengal’s IT department needs to find homes for firms such as Infosys Technologies Ltd that are looking to set up development centres in Kolkata, but don’t want to do so in the current IT hub Rajarhat because it is too expensive. Infosys has asked the state government for 100 acres, but has at the same time refused to pay the going rate at Rajarhat, Rs2.16 crore an acre, said Bengal’s IT secretary Siddharth.

Under the agreement, Vedic Realty has committed to “assemble” 600 acres for the IT department by the end of this year. And the government will have to create infrastructure for the company’s township by September next year.

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Mid-day meal implementation in Kolkata Municipal Corporation schools – An ExpressIndia report

Kolkata, March 20: Over 30 per cent of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation schools are not receiving a regular supply of cooked mid-day meal. Of the 242 KMC primary schools, students of 78 do not receive their share.

The situation is blamed on the lack of a “community kitchen” which is supposed to supply cooked food to the schools across the city. The plan to set this up was taken up by the KMC two years ago. Land was identified and the municipal headquarters had okayed the construction.

The first community kitchen was supposed to come up in the western part of the city in Garden Reach. But due to the “grand plan and low action theory” of the civic body, the plan has not materialised till date.

The design and mechanism of community kitchen was conceptualised after teams from the civic body visited similar set-ups in south India.

Kalyani Mitra, Member, Mayor-in-Council of the education department, admitting the delay in the start of the work, said: “The mid-day meal programme cannot run without a community kitchen. We are trying to speed up the process as much as possible.”

Currently, it is the duty of the teachers of the KMC primary schools to take care of the mid-day meal programme. But these schools face a shortage of the teachers.

The average number of teachers in each municipal school is not more than three. “Looking after the kitchen is quite a complex matter. It is affecting the academic quality of the schools. Where is the time to take classes after taking care of the kitchen,” asked a teacher of a KMC primary school near New Market.

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Centre clears 20 SEZs in Bengal – An Economic Times report

KOLKATA, March 20, 2008: West Bengal commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen told the state Assembly on Wednesday that the Centre had cleared 20 SEZs in the state and also agreed in principle to give the go-ahead to 17 other SEZs.

Replying to questions, the minister added that during the current fiscal, the Union government had given the green signal to 86 other industrial projects with an investment of Rs 2,28,039 crore.

Mr Sen said 50% of the total land area in a particular SEZ would be used for processing units and 25% for creating related infrastructure facilities.

The balance 25% would be used for other purposes. He informed that the state government would not follow any model rehabilitation package while acquiring land for various industrial projects.

“We will try our best to compensate and rehabilitate those whose lands would be acquired for any project. Attempts will also be made to ensure jobs for at least one person from each families whose land would be taken over by our government,” Mr Sen said.

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NREGA Job data for West Bengal

Report card: Allotted Rs. 1,235 crore. Spent Rs. 688 crore. Target days of work per household: 100 days. Achieved: 18 days.

New Delhi, March 19: The Congress-led Centre has revealed figures the Left would rather hide: Bengal could provide each rural household only 18 days of work on average so far this financial year against a target of 100.

Together with another Left-ruled state — Kerala — Bengal has emerged among the worst performers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the UPA’s welfare trophy that the communists like to claim as their own.

The dismal performance, despite a year-end rally, in itself is not surprising but the manner in which the information has been disclosed suggests the Centre will not lose any opportunity to make the Left blush.

The numbers were made public in a media release issued by the Union rural development ministry on Saturday. But the bland statement stood out for one reason: it gave the break-up related only to Bengal.

No other state, including Congress-ruled Maharashtra whose position is worse than that of Bengal, was mentioned. Government websites provide the full data but they are not usually updated fast.

Sources later said Kerala made up the bottom of the list, offering only nine days of work. Maharashtra was second from bottom, with 14 days a household. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have fared better than Bengal.

The seeds of the selective disclosure might lie in a trip made by a Left MP last year to the constituency of a senior minister in the Manmohan Singh government. The MP returned to the capital and wrote a stinging letter to the minister on the implementation of the job scheme in his seat.

With the Left and the government locked in a tussle over the nuclear deal and the Prime Minister reportedly rewriting the rules of engagement with the outside supporters, the minister has fired from the shoulder of a sister ministry to settle the scores, the sources said.

Out of the Rs 1,235 crore allotted for the programme for 2007-08, Bengal had spent only Rs 688 crore till February 15, the rural development ministry has revealed. As much as 44 per cent of the funds remain unspent.

In 2006-07, Bengal had spent around 59 per cent of the funds allotted.

The Left, which claims that the rural job scheme is the result of its “policy intervention”, would find the figures embarrassing.

The figures look better than they did in November, though. A Planning Commission note had revealed that Bengal had spent only about Rs 264 crore during April-November 2007. The improvement could be because the state has been transferring funds from the worst-performing districts to those that have spent more.

According to the rural development ministry, there was demand for work from 40,45,887 households in Bengal. Of these, 39,84,711 got work.

Activist Anuradha Talwar of the Right to Food Network said Bengal was just not interested in the scheme. She rubbished the state’s excuse that there was no demand.

“In the month of February 2008 alone, more than 3,800 households in South 24-Parganas applied for employment under the scheme. Only 1,600 got it. And this when February is supposed to be a better month for employment since it is just before harvest,” she said.

If the state fails to provide employment to a household, it is expected to give the applicant a subsistence allowance. Talwar said Bengal had failed to do so in most cases.

Citing the example of South 24-Parganas again, she said 4,373 people had applied for unemployment allowance and only seven had got it. “That too after activists and unions had intervened.”

A The Telegraph report

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Bihar leads the ST dropout pack, Bengal rides piggyback

Kajari Bhattacharya

KOLKATA, March 19: A recent report brought out by the minister of state for the human resources development ministry says West Bengal is the state with the second highest number of Scheduled Tribe (ST) students dropping out of schools. Bihar tops the list, the report says. The minister-in-charge of the state school education department, Mr Partho De, trashed the report saying that the situation was “not that bad”.

Mr De claimed that the report was off the mark and called it misleading. “The Centre keeps bringing out such reports which state that West Bengal has one of the worst drop-out rates in the country. But that’s not the reality. It is true that Bengal doesn’t have the best retention rate in the country, but the situation is not all that bad,” he said. But is this claim good enough to stem the flow of students who walk into school, only to walk out forever a few years later?

While the national average of dropouts in the ST category for school students (Classes I to X in 2004-05) is 78.97, and the rate for Bihar is 88.96, the rate for West Bengal is 87.90, the second highest in the country, the report states.

The report also points out that even in the Scheduled Caste category, the dropout rate in the state is way higher than the national average of 71.25, at 80.25. This is higher than 23 states in the country. Again, Bihar registers the maximum number of dropouts in this category with the rate standing at 90.61.

The Sarva Shiskhya Abhiyan in West Bengal is mired in controversy, with allegations of funds misuse and improper implementation flying fast and furious ever since the programme, that aims to educate all sections of society, was launched. The mid-day meal scheme, which aims to reduce the number of drop-outs in both rural and urban belts, hasn’t been that successful either.

It has been alleged again and again, among other things, that money sanctioned for the scheme is being siphoned off and that the funds released for the scheme is inadequate to provide even a decent vegetarian meal to the students.

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CITU members beat CESC worker Ramparvesh Singh to death

March 11, 2008. Translated from the leaflet published by Babban Paswan and Shyamsunder Ram on behalf of Mazdoor Sangh. Translation done by Abhik.

Revenge of Ramparvesh murder in the hands of CESC management and CITU cadres will be taken by intensifying the struggle for electric worker designation

By now, you must be aware through media reports that Ramparvesh Singh, one of the leaders of CESC contract workers movement has been murdered by CITU sponsored hooligans on 10th March, 2008.

Why are we on strike? CESC has a large pool of contract labourers. We work under contractors and are engaged in laying of both high and low tension cables and also repair cable faults. This work is of permanent nature and many of us are doing this job for the last 25-30 years. [In fact, before RP Goenka group took over, this work used to be part of permanent worker’s duty..] RPG is not ready to accept the simple fact that we are doing an electrician’s job. On the contrary, RPG management designate us as construction workers. To hide this, the company is resorting to unimaginable degree of exploitation and torture. When our fellow workers die while working on electric supply lines, the management is so mean that they try to destroy the evidence by disappearing the dead-bodies!

Over the last 25 years, we have tried to resist this oppression under the banner of 4 different trade unions from time to time; Janata Party/CITU/AITUC/ INTUC. The leaders of all these TU’s have betrayed us. Since March 2006, we decided to get rid of these corrupt TU leaders. We decided to fight against CESC management on our own strength by organizing ourselves. Since then our struggle has continued along this line, without any inputs from conventional parties or their leaders. Under the banner of our own organization Majdoor Sangha, we are fighting for the sole cause of being designated as electricians. RPG and the contractors are conspiring with the 4 old TU leaders to break our solidarity. CESC has forged a new black deal with these 4 TU’s and tried to impose it on the contract workers. But the unity of the workers has forced the management to withdraw the deal.

To advance the struggle further, the workers went on a two-day strike from 10th March. On that day, almost entire work of CESC was stalled. To break the strike, Goenka and contractors employed hooligan CITU cadres. The CITU hooligans attacked workers picketing in front of a contractor company named SK MONDOL ENGG CO, located near Ruby Hospital. Unarmed workers were faced with cadres armed with rods, bombs and pistols. Cold-blooded murder of Ramparabesh Singh, a leader of the new workers’ movement, was committed. 15 other workers were also injured in the attack.

We understand that the CESC management is afraid about the great unity shown by the workers. Also scared is CITU, their main agent from the ruling party. They think that they can destroy our movement using such terror tactics. But they will be proved wrong. We haved touched the dead body of Shahid Ramparvesh and vowed to continue our struggle until CESC recognizes us as electrical workers. They may have killed one Ramparvesh, but they cannot break our unity by murdering more of such workers.

We need your support in this movement. There are no MLAs and MPs on our side. Our sole strength is the unity of the working class. Support our movement. Stand by our side in our struggle against the exploitations perpetrated by RPG group on behalf of the ruling class.

With warm regards,

CESC (I) Mains Department Contractors Mazdoor Sangh
11th March, 2008

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Citizens protest inhuman treatment of patients at government sponsored Pavlov Hospital

The situation in a state mental hospital, a mere 6 km from the seat of government at Writers Building in Kolkata, where mentally challenged patients were kept in a state of undress, displays the typically dysfunctional nature of public healthcare, amidst all the rhetoric of development. A full report of the outrageous state of government healthcare is available here. Citizens came together in Kolkata on the 14th of march, 2008, to protest.

The meeting started with a description by Sri. Bireshwar, son-in-law of Smt. Jibonprobha Mukhopadhyay, of his experience at Pavlov. The lady was admitted to Pavlov in early 2007 and on the day of admission the welfare officer there commented “so you have come to garage her here!” Post admission, they were allowed fortnightly visits to meet the patient and the deterioration of the patient’s health was there for all to see. There came a time when the patient lost her capacity to walk. Clothes were always scant and the best was a gown without buttons. Soon enough the patient developed lice in her hair and had sores all over her body. A serious allegation made by Sri Bireshwar was the recurring theft of patients’ personal belongings and their medicines and that these find their way into neighbourhood shops. Sri bireshwar has been called for a hearing by the State Human Rights Commission and he also intends to file a petition at the chief minister’s office.

The next to speak was Sri Shubhro, a person suffering schizophrenia, who had spent some time in Pavlov hospital in 2004. He seconded the experience of Sri Bireshwar. He said that the treatment there was cruel, there was regular beating of inmates and worms in the food. Female patients were worse off and they were kept in a state of undress even in 2004.

Next was a representative of ‘Disabled Employees Association’. He lamented that the inmates of state mental hospitals are worse off than animals in Alipore Zoo. He felt that the basic malady was the rule that one could visit the patient once every fortnight and that this rule should be changed to permit daily visits for relatives of inmates.

Dr. Amit Ranjan Bose, a psychiatrist, spoke last. He said whatever is being written about now is nothing new and he has been seeing this for the last 15 years, in the course of his work. He said that the whole health care system is rotten from the inside and ought to be discarded. Tax payer’s money is spent to provide employment to hordes of people who hardly have any committment to health care.

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Bengal lives off debt mountain – Profligate state draws up fresh plans for huge borrowings

Jayanta Roy Chowdhury, The Telegraph

New Delhi, March 16: Bengal is wolfing down borrowed cash, not just for the politically correct reason of funding development but to live from one day to another.

The state plans to borrow as much as Rs 16,096 crore, including over Rs 9,800 crore from the market, in the coming financial year, according to documents submitted to the Planning Commission.

The huge borrowing programme comes on top of its accumulated debt mountain of over Rs 120,000 crore, which amounts to about 40 per cent of the state’s GDP.

“The worst part of it is that Bengal’s balance from current revenues (the difference between revenue income and revenue expenditure) is a negative Rs 4,227 crore. Which means the loans are being taken not only to pay for development work but also to fund part of its normal revenue expenditure such as paying salaries or interest on its past loans,” a plan panel adviser said.

Agreed M. Govinda Rao, a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council: “The state’s fiscal situation is not healthy.”

During 2007-08, too, the state had the ignominy of reporting the highest revenue deficit of Rs 7,168 crore among all states. Kerala had the second largest revenue deficit at Rs 5,251 crore. During this year, Bengal paid Rs 11,028 crore as net interest on past loans — a little less than the topper, Maharashtra, which spent Rs 11,087 crore.

“Bengal has been falling into a debt trap for quite some time… the central loan write-offs in favour of state governments effected by the Finance Commission under Rangarajan helped bail out many states. But states must now guard against fiscal profligacy,” cautioned S.P. Gupta, a former member of the Planning Commission.

Most states, barring a few like Bengal, have enacted fiscal responsibility laws that force governments to cut deficits. In 2007-08, as many as 16 states had revenue surpluses after putting in place programmes aimed at cutting down wasteful expenditure and increasing revenues.

A Bengal government source said: “We have not come up with a fiscal responsibility act as this would curtail the welfare role of the government.”

The borrowing programme approved by the plan panel and central assistance of Rs 2,641 crore are the sole sources of the state’s resources for funding its development plan of Rs 11,602 crore. The state is also paying back some Rs 3,865 crore, most of it to the central government and to the market as repayment of past loans.

Plan panel officials said the borrowing plan could be termed large, especially if seen against the state’s total tax revenue estimates of Rs 24,321 crore during 2007-08.

During 2007-08, non-development revenue expenditure as a percentage of revenue receipts was budgeted at 61.5 per cent. This is the highest for all states in the country. “Even a state like Bihar, which many used to consider a basket case earlier, spent only 37.5 per cent on non-development revenue expenditure as a percentage of its revenues,” a official pointed out.

The interest payout as a percentage of revenue expenditure at 30.4 per cent for Bengal is also the highest among all states. “The interest payment is so high that it seems the state does not have enough to spend on infrastructure and development. This could be a problem in the long run,” Rao said.

Similar figures on interest as a percentage of revenue expenditure for states like Bihar and Jharkhand were 16.3 and 14.9 per cent, respectively. The average for all states was just 17.7 per cent.

“All this suggests that Bengal’s debt servicing as a ratio of its revenue is far higher than what we can consider sustainable. The state will have to find ways of increasing its revenues,” an official said.

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Irrigation projects in state hit by delays, says CAG

Biswabrata Goswami, The Statesman

KRISHNAGAR, March 17: The state finance minister Mr Asim Dasgupta may have stressed on extending irrigation facilities in his Budget statement today, but a reality check has revealed that various major and medium irrigation projects worth hundreds of crores of rupees in the state have been hit with delays.

A recent report from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India pointed out that Rs 1159.49 crore sanctioned for 19 different major and medium irrigation projects in West Bengal have already been locked-in for not being completed within the stipulated time. This report is for fiscal period 2002-2003, but it has been estimated that given the trend of delays that the state government is guilty of, the said figure would be far greater if included the last financial year’s figure, the report highlighted.

According to the CAG report, these irrigation projects covering vast areas of North Bengal and South Bengal, include the rivers Teesta, Parga, Massenjore, Tatco, Brahmoni, Bandhu, Deko, Hanumanta, Ramchandrapur, Futiari, Patkoi, Bulanjhore, Karior, Sali diversion, Sali reservoir, Nai-basin, Ghea-Kunti, Khairabera and Barabhum. These projects, most of which were started 25 to 30 years back, are languishing for various reasons, the report stated.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, a comparison of the original approved cost of ongoing irrigation projects and latest estimated costs indicate that the escalation in cost in respect of approved ongoing projects due to delay in completion is about a few hundred crores.
Asked about the matter, the RSP state committee leader and the state irrigation minister, Mr Subhash Naskar said: “We could not complete various major and medium irrigation projects in due time owing to the Central government’s policy. In all the cases, the state government has been asked to bear 75 per cent of the project cost. For example, in the case of the Teesta project, of the total amount spent on this project (Rs. 1085.04 crore) till now, nearly 76 per cent (Rs. 829.40 crore) has been borne by the state government. So, we have justifiably raised the demand before the Central government that this project be given the status of a national project.”

“Apart from this huge cost burden, many projects have yet been finished because of the problem of land acquisition and many projects have been stalled mid-way because of cases filed in courts,” Mr Naskar added.

Concerned about these matters, finance minister Mr Dasgupta, however, pointed in his Budget statement that in the sphere of large and medium irrigation projects, the focus is on speedy completion of the major projects. Along with this special emphasis has also been laid on anti-erosion schemes and basin-specific drainage schemes in the districts, Mr Dasgupta said.

Mr Manoj Chakraborty, president of the State Government Employees’ Federation, alleged: “Irrigation projects are critical for the growth and development of the state’s agriculture. Despite this, a large number of river-valley projects, both multipurpose and for irrigation, have spilled over from Plan to Plan. And because of this, common people are being deprived of being benefited by the projects for years.”

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Potato riot for storage space

Feb. 28: A potato riot broke out today in a North Bengal town after farmers were denied cold-storage space, a perennial problem private investors have promised to address if political hurdles are lifted.

Police fired a round in the air, rained baton blows on 3,000 farmers and used teargas to quell the protest in South Dinajpur. Fifteen farmers and four policemen were injured.

This is the second time this year Bengal police have opened fire, though in the air today, to curb protests involving core constituencies of the Left Front. Last month, five persons were killed when the police fi-red on supporters of the Forward Bloc in Cooch Behar.

The potato clash follows ration riots — all in the run-up to the panchayat election that the CPM itself has described as the “toughest” political battle in years.

The farmers had approa- ched the Gangarampur Agri-cultural Marketing Society, which owns the cold storage, to buy bonds to store potatoes. They were told that the 10,000-tonne capacity had been exceeded two days ago.

“They are trying to create an artificial space crunch so that they can sell the bonds in the black market,” said Robi Sarkar, a farmer.

The bonds are sold for Rs 5 a gunny bag, each containing 50kg of potatoes. In the black market, the price can go up to Rs 25-30, farmer said.

The farmers stormed the cold storage office, tore up documents and smashed computers and furniture, forcing employees to flee.

Society chairman Bipul Adhikari said the district had a bumper crop this year, resulting in the space crunch.

“Yesterday, we had told farmers that we would help them get space in a cold storage in Malda, along with a subsidy from the government, but they refused,” he said.

A small police picket, posted in front of the cold storage after an altercation two days ago, proved inadequate. “We had to resort to a lathicharge and burst teargas shells after repeated requests failed. Stones hurled by the mob injured four of us,” additional SP Imran Wahab said.

The violence was triggered by the apparent crunch in storage space, but both the CPM and the Forward Bloc said this was not true of the potato belt in south Bengal.

Some big potato cultivators are known to block space in cold storages to hoard their produce, forcing small and marginal farmers to sell their crop at throwaway prices. The big farmers then sell the potato at higher prices when supplies dip across the state, according to those familiar with the trade.

The entry of private investment might help create more storage space and modern facilities — the lack of which is considered one of the biggest problems plaguing rural economies.

But the Forward Bloc, which controls the agriculture marketing network in the state, has been opposing the entry of private giants like Reliance.

The society where trouble broke out today is said to be controlled by the CPM.

The party is not opposed to Reliance making investments but the party feels that such investors cannot help beyond a point as they would be handling hardly 2 per cent of the farm produce.

The CPM leader who said this, however, did not explain how the figure was arrived at as no big private investment in farm retail has taken off yet in Bengal.

Another CPM leader said there was excess storage capacity in the state. “Only 80 per cent of storage capacity of the state’s 441 cold storages, including the 57 multi-purpose units, are currently used. So it’s not true that potato-growers in the state are facing an acute space crunch,’’ said Samar Baora, the state secretary of the Krishak Sabha, the CPM’s farmer wing.

Baora is also a member of the state government’s expert committee that monitors potato farming and storage.

But Baora added that private investors would be able to pay farmers better prices and help avoid rotting of farm produce. “We should not unnecessarily panic if Reliance enters the state agri-market, except in paddy and rice,” he said.

Naren Chatterjee, a Forward Bloc leader and the boss of the farm marketing agency, said: “We, too, want joint ventures with the private sector to develop the cold chain. But not big groups like Reliance and Bharti-WalMart.”

Bengal produces around 80 lakh tonnes of potatoes annually and the output is likely to increase to 85-88 lakh tonnes this year.

Around 45 lakh tonnes are consumed in the state, while the rest goes to cold storages, according to Baora.

In recent years, north Bengal had started cultivating this crop and the government had given some incentives. However, in the two Dinajpurs (south, where the clash occurred today, and north) fewer cold storages had come up.

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