Shh! the siege is on
Peace on lips, paralysis on highway
Singur, Aug. 24: As the sun set over the straggly industrial skyline of Singur, Mamata Banerjee rose to her feet with peace on her lips and the power to paralyse on call.
“Our agitation will continue unless the 400 acres forcibly taken away from farmers is returned to them,” the Trinamul leader declared from a podium around 100 metres from the Tata Motors small-car factory. “I am here and our agitation will continue.”
With her torrent came an early evening shower, the sky over Singur streaked in dark clouds.
By then, the halogen lights inside the Tata plant had been turned on. But the future of the project looked dim as Mamata threatened to continue her siege unless the Tata project was trimmed to 600 acres.
Appearing unfazed by the pullout threat from the Tatas, the Trinamul Congress chief dared the group to leave Bengal. “If other states are inviting you, please go there.… But can you leave with Tata Centre? Can you leave with Tata Indicom?” she roared as the 40,000-strong crowd around podium No. 7 started thinning.
Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh echoed her. “If others are calling, please go. West Bengal will say, goodbye, ta-ta,” Singh said, drawing a huge round of applause.
In sharp contrast to the bustle outside, the factory, where over 3,500 people are at work on any given day, wore a deserted look. “Sunday is a day off. Some work takes place in the morning shift, but today there is hardly any activity inside,” said a police officer.
Tomorrow, will it be possible for the workers to go inside the plant? Tata Motors officials did not want to answer the questions, though Mamata insisted that no one would be stopped from going to work.
She also preferred to label her movement “a satyagraha”. “This is a peaceful demonstration. We want peace…. No one should even look at the Tata plant.”
The promise of peace was a recurring theme during the six-hour session, which started at 2.15pm, soon after she reached the dharna site. But the siege’s potential to disrupt was on full display by the evening. As the numbers grew around the podium, traffic on Durgapur Expressway, which links Calcutta and Burdwan, came to a halt with police closing stretches of the road. Trinamul has erected 21 podiums along the expressway.
After ending the day’s proceedings, Mamata asked the 2,000-odd supporters who had stayed back for the night to lie down on the road. “No one will dare come near you,” she told them as they prepared khichudi for dinner.
People sprawled on the road, the police stopped vehicles at the three toll plazas at Asansol, Panagarh and Shaktigarh on National Highway 2. The expressway is a part of the highway.Thousands of vehicles bound for Calcutta were being held up till late tonight. Vehicles coming towards Asansol from the north will have to be diverted through Purulia, Bankura, Midnapore and Howrah to reach Calcutta, which means the distance will double to 400km.
Those stranded at Panagarh will have to take a detour through Birbhum, Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24-Parganas, adding 150km to the usual journey to Calcutta. Vehicles stuck at Shaktigarh will have to turn back about 15km to Burdwan and take GT Road to reach Howrah and Calcutta, logging an additional 50km.
Carrying Trinamul flags, supporters trickled in since early morning as a police force of over 3,000 stood on guard both inside and outside the plant. While police sources claimed that only 5,000 people had come from the affected villages in Singur, Trinamul leaders said most were from North and South 24-Parganas and East Midnapore districts. Mamata sought to scotch the government’s reported attempt to offer alternative plots to landlosers. “There is alternative land for all the ancillary units just opposite the Tata factory, which CPM-backed promoters have bought in anticipation of huge gains. We can identify such tracts and our panchayat will help transfer them to the government, where the ancillary units can be set up,” she said.
How Mamata ran the Singur show on Sunday
She kept interjecting during the six-hour session of speeches. Everyone from Medha Patkar to Amar Singh had to wait with microphones in their hands.
“We are not here to break the wall. Don’t even look at the Tata plant,” she kept reminding those who tried to get closer to the complex.
Most leaders sat through the programme, but not Mamata. She wound her way around the others. “You have to understand that I need to coordinate,” she explained.
She called on people standing under the blazing sun to converge near the stage or to look for shelter or open their umbrellas.
Thanking Amar Singh for his support, Mamata said her party would join the Samajwadi Party’s movements in Uttar Pradesh
The choice of vehicle for most of her supporters: Tata Sumo. Many Trinamul supporters depended on the workhorse from the Tata stable to reach the venues to lay siege to the Nano factory.
Issue Date: Monday ,
August 25 , 2008
Police play peacekeeper - Cops armed with ‘planning and information’
DEVADEEP PUROHIT AND KINSUK BASU
Singur, Aug. 24: The message crackled around 2pm: “Mamata Banerjee is past the Dankuni crossing.”
A shuffling of feet followed by a flurry of activity greeted the news at the police “control tower” outside the Santi Ceramics factory, off the supply gate of the Tata Motors plant.
Some officers scurried to inform their superiors while others waited for orders. They were glued to their hand-held Manpacks — portable radio sets — for the final command before taking position.
Some were posted inside the Tata Motors plant, others around the boundary wall, near podium No. 7 from where Mamata launched her indefinite siege.
The police have set up 12 towers around vital installa- tions on the factory premises. They are also keeping watch from 16 points along the gates that are already shielded by the Rapid Action Force and layers of bamboo fences and iron railings.
“Planning and information are our biggest weapons today,” a senior district police officer said as he sifted through a pile of papers.
The printouts — containing details of police postings — had been taken from a computer at the control tower a few minutes ago.
After going through them, the officer began making calls to check whether the men were at their allotted spots.
With the chief minister making it clear that Singur should not snowball into another Nandigram, the police cannot afford a mistake.
“We had a briefing session yesterday, where it was announced that our main job would be to protect the assets of the Tata project and maintain law and order. It was made clear that there should not be any confrontation with political parties and their supporters,” said a deputy superintendent from an adjoining district.
Around 25 deputy superintendents from across the state are now on duty in Singur.
In keeping with their brief, the police refrained from rushing into action when news reached them this morning that some local youths had tried to strike at the Tata Motors wall in Gopalnagar.
There was no damage to the wall and with the police staying away, the incident did not attract much attention.
“The Trinamul Congress has declared that it will hold a peaceful agitation and we are going by their leaders’ word. We are here only to maintain law and order,” said Kuldiep Singh, inspector-general, western range.
Of the 40,000 people who had assembled since early this morning, only about 2,000 stayed back for the night. Most of them squatted around the Trinamul podiums while some lay down on the Durgapur Expressway. But the police did not make any attempt to clear the road.
A 4km stretch of the road is likely to be closed to traffic tomorrow as well. Vehicles are having to make a detour via GT Road to escape Singur.
“We don’t know how long the agitation will continue. If this road is closed for days, we may have to intervene. But we don’t know how we will do that,” an officer said.
Faces from singur
Taher Ali Mir, Trinamul activist
Resident: Bhangar, North 24-Parganas
At Singur: To take part in the siege. Reached early on Sunday. Aware that the sit-in may continue for weeks, Mir has come prepared with spare clothes and toiletries
Views: Mir doesn’t want to talk on the farm-versus-factory debate. He only wants his Didi’s wish to be fulfilled Parting line: I have got around 40 people with me from Bhangar. We haveto make this dharna a success.
Priyabrata Baksi, OC, Singur
Resident: Originally from Andal in Burdwan
At Singur: On duty. After spending three years in Singur between 2000 and 2003, Baksi was brought back to the same post in August 2006 to maintain law and order in and around the car plant.
Views: Baksi, who moves around with six guards, supports development with a human face Parting line: I am here with the government’s mandate and am working round the clock.
Ratan Bahadur Budha, businessman
Resident: Salkia in Howrah .
At Singur: To have a look at the much talked-about plant. With his mother Sunsari and niece Satya, Budha came to Singur on Sunday for a first-hand perspective of the farm-versus-factory tussle.
Views: Budha votes for industry, but not at the cost of farmers Parting shot: I don’t know whether this plant will be there or not. That’s why I came here to see it.
Madan Saha, hawker
Resident: Habra, North 24-Parganas.
At Singur: To cash in on the huge turnout. The peanut seller took an early morning train to Singur with a bucket full of peanuts. He grabbed a vantage position opposite the podium and did brisk business.
Views: Saha is not fully aware of the issue, nor is he interested Parting shot: I have come here with a stock worth Rs 400 and I will leave the moment my bucket is empty.
Issue Date: Monday ,
August 25 , 2008
Puja on schedule but plant doesn’t purr
Devadeep Purohit of The Telegraph took a close look inside the Tata Motors complex in Singur on Monday, the first working day since the Trinamul siege began.
For a Monday afternoon, it’s unusually quiet at the sprawling Nano plant.
The stretch before the giant press-shop shed, where steel plates are beaten into car doors and other parts, is almost deserted weeks ahead of the rollout deadline.
Four men in white shirts, blue trousers and white helmets, with “Tata Motors” embossed on them, are chatting in a leisurely manner. One of them, in his early 30s, seems a little embarrassed as he explains the situation.
“You see, on a normal working day, even walking along this stretch is a problem, there are so many people around. But look, there is no one today,” he says.
Just over a third of the 3,500-plus workforce has reported for work on the first working day of Mamata Banerjee’s indefinite siege of the plant.
It’s 4.30pm. Most of the shutters are down at the engine shop and paint shop, sheds where the various stages of manufacturing are done before the engine is finally fitted into the painted chassis.
The area outside is not completely empty, though — huge containers of equipment and machinery are strewn all around. The aluminium sheets, iron beams and giant exhaust fans inside the boxes are to be fitted in the paint shop.
Hundreds of payloaders, earthmovers and cranes lie idle.
Outside, however, the decibel has shot up a few levels. On Day Two of her dharna, called to press for the return of 400 acres to “unwilling” landlosers, Mamata has sharpened her attack on the state government and the Tatas.
“No one was stopped from entering the plant, though. The workers probably stayed away out of fear,” a police officer said.
Admitting the loss of crucial man-hours ahead of the October rollout deadline, a Tata Motors spokesperson said: “The attendance of our employees was good and bare minimum work took place inside the plant.”
Sources explained that over 80 per cent of the 990-odd Tata Motors employees were brought in on 25 buses with police escort, but about 80 per cent of the 2,500-odd workers of the various contractors stayed away. “The company executives did some work at the effluent treatment plant, LPG yard and training centre, but no construction took place,” a source said.
Some signs of activity could be detected at the press shop, ringed by tight security. “You can spot the Nano chassis inside this shed,” a factory insider said. But breaching the multi-layer cordon of over 1,300 police and 450 private guards proved a tall order even on an idle day.
The employees, however, moved freely about the sprawling campus, still dotted with lush green stretches and water bodies.
“We are welders, but there hasn’t been any work for us since Saturday night. So we’re just strolling around,” a contract worker said near gate II of the vendor park, earmarked for the ancillary units.
The group of three had ventured out of the hutment on the premises and was heading towards the disputed 400 acres. All the units — Caparo Engineering, Rico Engineering, Sona Koyo Steering Systems — along the metalled road were shut. Cattle from nearby Beraberi and Ghosh Para grazed on the patches of green.
“The work schedule for almost all departments suffered today. We don’t know how long this will continue,” a Tata Motors employee said.
At one corner of the project site, though, it was business as usual. The Shashan Kali temple was open.
“We performed puja like any other day. People came to offer prayers,” said Biswanath Brahmachari, the priest.
Issue Date: Tuesday ,
August 26 , 2008