Brinda Karat’s Untruths

via Anuradha, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity published on January 3, 2007

“Untruth” means lies. So who are these people whom Ms Karat is accusing of being liars? Leaving aside the TMC who are the traditional enemies of the CPM, these liars include both the RSP and the CPI, Left Front partners who have repeatedly expressed their disapproval of the way in which the Singur issue has been handled, the police atrocities and the lack of transparency; Medha Patkar, her comrade of many struggles; Mahasweta Devi an 81 year old woman who has spent her life writing about the struggles of the oppressed; Justice Moloy Sengupta a retired Chief Justice, and many civil society organizations whose reports have been used below . The list could go on and on. Most significantly this list also includes all the newspaper reports and TV images that we have been seeing over the past 7 months since this struggle started on May 25 th 2006. Last, but not least, it also includes the people of Singur who have been saying a loud NO to the Tatas project over and over again.



But let us come to Brinda Karat’s untruths.



Untruth 1: Of the 997 acres required, the Government has received consent letters from landowners for 952 acres.



Facts: As early as 17 July 2006 the members of the Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (SKJRC) provided the Government with letters from owners and sharecroppers of about 950 acres of land who refused to give their land for the Tata Motors project. Since then, some absentee landlords have given their letters of consent. Due to various pressures, some of the farmers decided to give their land. A sample survey done by Sanhati Udyog in November 2006 showed that of the 335 land holders that they interviewed, and who owned 261.49 acres, only 20 were willing to or had already handed over their land to the Government. 315 households owning 237.19 acres had refused to give their land. Those willing to hand over their land gave reasons as “family pressure/other business/can’t fight CPI (M) and Tatas/single-crop land.”



On 6.12.06 the SKJRC provided us with signed letters from 300 farmers who have given the details of their land holdings amounting to 184 acres and have declared that “we have not and will not giveour land to Tata Motors.” These letters and the land record details can be given whenever anyone wants to look at them. The SKJRC has collected such letters from owners of over 400 acres. A great deal of claims and counter claims are being made about consent letters. The best thing would be for the Government to publicly make available the list of those who have actually given their land. On 12 th December when Brinda Karat was in Kolkata, only 42 farmers said they had given consent. According to the Daimio Statesman(13th December 2006), when the CPI(M)’s Hooghly District Secretary, ShriBalaram Sapui was questioned at the site of Brinda Karat’s meeting about why only 42 farmers had signed the letter, he stated that the list of the other farmers who had given consent was publicly displayed at the Singur Block office. When we asked the BDO for this list the next day, he said no list was available with him.



Untruth 2: this is the one government that has had numerous meetings with the affected people and called all party meetings several times to discuss the details of the project, the nature of land being taken over, and the compensation package.

Facts: Undemocratic and forcible land acquisition is the most deplorable features of the Singur project. The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation status report itself makes this amply clear. In a column marked “Outcome” the report clearly states  that no decision transpired at any of the 9 meetings with the local people. There is no other evidence given in this report of popular consent for the project. Similarly, the government report mentions that there was strong local resistance to the project and that “entry to the land to explore the terrain and to ascertain the ground conditions by WBIDC could not be done till early December”. In spite of such clear evidence of resistance and local discontent  the Government went ahead with acquisition after declaring Section 144 and using a huge police force to quell the peaceful resistance of the people.



From newspaper reports it is clear that the people of Singur resisted the Tata Motors project from 25th May 2006, the first day the Tata Motors team went to inspect the site. The team was gheraoed and had to be rescued by the police. A peaceful movement was started  after that. Later, on rallies were organised by SKJRC to the BDO(1 st July) and DM office (13th July), a road blockade (24th July), boycott of Government’s hearing (22nd August), lying down on the road by the village women to prevent delivery of notice by the  Government (1-2 September). On the day when commencement of payment began (25 th September), 7000 people gathered at the block office and were assaulted in the middle of the night after lights were put off deliberately by the police and party cadres. 40 people were  injured and 1 person (Rajkumar Bhul) died.



Blockades by all major political parties followed (26th and 27th September). Further agitations were organized all through October and November by the SKJRC and major political parties, but there has been no stop to the process in spite of a worsening political situation. Discussion and dialogue have been totally absent from the entire process.



Untruth 3 : It is well recognised that West Bengal under the Left  has ensured registration of the majority of sharecroppers through a bitter struggle. In Singur, all the 275 sharecroppers will get 25 per cent of what landowners will get; and 170 more sharecroppers who are not registered have applied for compensation, which is under  consideration.

Facts : Nagarik Manch in a response to the WBIDC Status Report says that the status report puts the total number of bargadars as 407 (recorded and unrecorded. “As per Government standards, in undivided Bengal and, later, in West Bengal, right from the days of the Land Revenue Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Francis Floud, 1940, it is accepted that in any area, over and above the recorded landowners, there would be bargadars, and their number would be at least 20% of the number of landowners.” The WBIDC status report gives a total of 12000 landowners, so according to Nagarik Manch there should have been ‘at least’ 2400 recorded and unrecorded bargadars. Similarly, Sanhati Udyog’s report claims that there are at least 1200 unrecorded bargadars in the area. The Government is therefore definitely depriving this section. The truth of the matter is that the need was for an accurate survey of actual land use and ownership before Singur was started , but in its haste to pander to the whims of the Tatas, the Government plunged headlong into acquisition without bothering to see who might be deprived.



Untruth 4 :The vast majority of workers in the area earn their income through non-agricultural work. Government records for the five areas where land is being taken put the number of workers involved in non-agricultural work at around 7,700, including 1,000 women. Another 700 are involved in some type of household industry. Not surprisingly, the number of agricultural workers, around 1,230, is much less; and most of them have to do other work to ensure a minimum income.



Facts : There seems to be some mistake in the figures being quoted by Brinda Karat. The total number of main workers in the five mouzas where acquisition is taking place is 7710. These include 1320 cultivators and 1224 agricultural workers or 33% of the working population which is directly dependent on agriculture. However, in an area as rich as Singur even the others (691 in household industries and 4475 in other occupations) would include those whose  work is dependent on the agricultural production in the area.

In a flourishing agricultural area, the income of shopkeepers and others around depends on the well being of those directly in cultivation. The Sanhati Udyog survey done in November estimates that there are 450-500 rickshaw pullers who transport vegetables, 150 vegetable vendors , 200 households engaged in animal husbandry etc. They also mention about 1000 wage labourers, called garir kishen who come to work everyday by train from Bardhaman , Bankura and Hooghly , and about 800 agricultural workers who come from Jharkhand as seasonal migrants. The cold storage at Ratanpur nearby which gets its goods from these areas also employs 5000 migrant labourers.

The truth is that it is assumed that it is only industry that has ancillaries. The fact that agriculture also creates ripple effects and ancillaries and that flourishing agriculture can also lead to a rich and developed life  is something that seems to be a truth which this Government once propagated and now seems to have forgotten.



Untruth 5 : The Government has ensured alternative work for them. Already in that area, over 7,500 person-days of employment have been generated in the last few weeks. Employment for local workers will also be created in canal renovation, road widening, fence and building construction, and other activity.



Facts : A village right next to the project site (Dobandi) has 63 agricultural worker families. All of them used to work in the fenced off area. They claim that they would have received work for two months on a continuous basis during the upcoming potato season, but  are now facing starvation. None of them have been employed in the fencing work, where most workers have been brought from outside the immediate vicinity of the forcibly acquired land. Out migration was practically unknown in the area, but now all these agricultural  workers will be forced to leave their homes in search of work. Also, all agricultural workers who used to come to this area on a regular work from nearby districts and Jharkhand will also lose their work.

Untruth 6 : The Left Front Government is the only one in the country that has initiated different types of training programmes for landless workers and land losers, 1,800 of whom have already  registered in different programmes. The effort is to ensure that
alternative work and livelihood is ensured.



Facts : Nagarik Mancha states that the farmers in Singur are skilled at agriculture and other land-related activities. “Having targeted  to ‘de-skill’ them, having made them virtually ‘unemployable’, a lot is being made subsequently about imparting training. Figures in the Government report show that only 0.7% (179 of the 20000) rendered  jobless are receiving training for future employment at Tata factory or in the ‘probable’ ancillaries.”



Even if Ms Karat’s figure of 1800 receiving training is correct then the percentage of those receiving training becomes 9%. The advertisements of the organisations imparting these training quite understandably declare that there could be no job guarantee.

Untruth 7 : According to Government records, approximately 90 per cent of the land is single crop.



Facts : The Government is relying on outdated land records for these figures. Nagarik Mancha’s report says that “The last land-use map available with the Government of West Bengal was drawn during the ’70’s. At that time the classification was based on the intensity of agriculture considering this area to be ‘rain-fed’. Since then the WB Government has set up four deep tube wells and renovated three DVC fed canals in this area. Productivity has  increased manifold paving the way for 27 privately owned mini deep tube wells and hundreds of diesel/kerosene run mini pump sets for lifting water from channels. The ‘rain-fed’ land has become ‘irrigated land’. Presently there are 42 power-tillers in the area. Could all these be there if this area was a predominantly mono- crop and partially double-crop land?



Now which is a ‘fact’ — what the map drawn in 70’s says or what  exists in 2006 on the ground level?”


 


Untruth 8 : Land has been changing hands faster in Singur than in any other part of West Bengal . Over the last year or so, there have been 572 private land transactions of approximately 300 acres of land, at one-third the rate given as compensation in the Singur project. This is the opposite of what is happening in other States, where land is being acquired from the peasantry at less than the market price.



Facts : The compensation given by the Government for Sali land as per the WBIDC report is Rs. 8.60 lakhs per acre and Rs.12.76 lakhs per acre for Suna land. The land documents in the same mouzas however show that market land prices are higher. For example Prasenjit Das has 12 cottahs ( 0.6 acres) of Sali land in Gopalnagar mouza, which is just outside the project. The land titles show that he has purchased this land for Rs.5 lakhs and that the Government valuation and registration fees for this land are also the same. This would amount to Rs.25 lakhs per acre only for the land costs while the Government award, which includes solatium, interest, a bonus for consent and crop compensation is only Rs.8.60 lakhs. The Government is acquiring land for the benefit of the Tatas at one third the market price- exactly what is happening in all other
states!

Untruth 9 : According to Census data, the share of fallow land, wasteland, pastures and so on is only 1 per cent in West Bengal compared with the national average of 17.6 per cent.



Facts : Even if this is correct there are differences within West Bengal. Hooghly district is the district with highest crop intensity in West Bengal and with a huge population pressure. Why use this  land? Why not ask the Tatas to go to Purulia district where 20% of the land is non-cultivable? Why not, as Kamal Kanta Khara, a hunger striker from the SKJRC suggested, go to mono cropped land in Talerbheri and Korerbheri and other neighbouring Mouzas that are  about 1-2 kilometres from the present site? Why not go to Dankuni an industrial area that is about 15 kms away? Or to the dozens of alternative sites mentioned by Mahasweta Devi and APDR?



Untruth 10: The report of the NGO `fact-finding’ team cannot name a single child thrown in a water body nor one woman who was sexually abused. If there was brutal beating and repression, surely there would have been scores of people with fractured limbs and broken heads who would have no doubt been paraded before the media as  proof;Bombs were thrown at the police, which chased the crowd into the village, lathi-charged, and tear-gassed them.



Facts : As Brinda Karat herself admits, the police chased the crowd into the village ,lathi charged and tear gassed them. What was the police doing inside a village which has not had any history of violence? And where are the policemen who were injured by bombs? Why  has the Government not “paraded them before the media as proof”? On 6th December, when we visited the affected villages, a number of women complained about sexual molestation, use of foul language and harassment by the police on 2nd December 2006. The women said it was male police who came into their houses, chasing them from the fields for a distance as long as 750 metres for Khaser Bheri and about 1.5 kilometres for Beraberi Purba Para , the two villages that faced the  maximum police brutality. Their intention was very clearly not to deal with a law and order problem, but to beat the people into submission. The women recognized some of the police as being local party supporters dressed as police men. They were even able to name a few of these people.



The complainants on the 6th include Rupa Koley who showed us her shirt that was torn by the police and wounds on her upper left arm; Bharati Das of Khaser Bheri , who also met Nilotpal Basu at Delhi on  6 th December, with fractured ribs and a smashed hand; Rita Das’s (Khaser Bheri) whose left foot was smashed by a rubber bullet; Maya Das (Bera Beri) whose foot was burnt by a tear gas shell.



MASUM’s factfinding report on the 2nd itself mentions several other ways in which the police broke the law ; custody memos were not given , two minor girls were arrested and kept with adults in the lock up, the women’s cell was not used etc. They also spoke to men who had been arrested and were in the District hospital. These include Dilip Das 44 years old who had a head wound that bled profusely for three hours before treatment and required eight stitches; Mritunjoy Patra , 55 years old with an injured right leg; Tapan Batyabol, 53 years old with heamatoma in both legs; Bilas Sarkar 26 years with injured left shoulder, lacerated injuries and swelling due to blows in many parts of his body.10 other undertrial  prisoners in the police lock up also showed injury marks.



In West Bengal we are used to the CPM and the Government functioning in collusion. Seldom does the CPM criticize the Government and the Government always protects the CPM’s interests. We had expected the CPM outside West Bengal to be more objective in its dealings.However we seem to have been mistaken. PS Grewal of the Delhi CPM State Committee has been circulating a Government report to defend his party’s position. And Brinda Karat has relied on the same report by the perpetrators of an injustice to justify the injustice. We invite her to visit Singur to see the truth for herself. 

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