by BIMAN BASU
THE exercise of setting up Tata Motors’ small car project in West Bengal began on May 12, 2006 when the Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Tata group chairman Ratan Tata met at the Writers’ Buildings. Based on those discussions, on May 18 in the presence of the Bengal chief minister and the industries minister Nirupam Sen, Tata announced that they are ready to invest in the automobile sector at Singur for producing their rupee one lakh small car, Nano.
It was also spelt out that in the main complex, directly 2000 people would be employed. However, in the adjacent ancillary industries, the employment would go up to 10,000. These figures exclude the people who will avail themselves of the benefits through setting up of shops, bazaars, lodges, and accrue other social benefits out of the social activities in and around Singur.
Based on the discussions with the Tata Motors, the government of West Bengal initiated the preliminary preparations to go for the small car project unit at Singur in Hooghly district. Accordingly, the government started the acquisition of land at Singur and this move was supported by a big rally of peasants. The slogan given by the peasantry of Singur was ‘we want industry to be set up at Singur.’
In the month of October the same year, the state government called an all-party meeting to identify the land for acquisition purposes and to prepare a land map for the factory. The TMC boycotted the meeting and gave a call for a 12-hour bandh. It is found that after the visit of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) officials, the TMC gave another call for bandh against the setting up of the industry at Singur. The government started simultaneously training the young men and women of the peasants’ families of Singur to provide future employment to them at the proposed factory.
However, this was not liked by the TMC. They started assaulting the peasant families of the area. A few days after the incidents when the government declared Section 144 in the area, and did not allow the TMC chief to go there to create vandalism in the villages, she returned to the West Bengal assembly, which was, then in session. She, not being a member of the assembly, came inside the assembly, called upon the TMC legislators and shouted out a wrong version of the incident with concoctions and lies aplenty. And then she gave a reckless call for wild ransacking of the assembly premises, including destruction of the properties of the assembly.
In her presence, the vandal activities were perpetrated by her legislators, damaging in the process property worth several lakhs in the lobby and the library – and the incidents were telecast live on TV channels. They also carried on vandalism within the chamber. After the mischief made by her party’s members, she gave another bandh call the next day. This is just like thieves who after stealing the goods, shout out ‘Thieves! Thieves’- and then make good their escape! What a shameful exercise this was – indeed it was a black day for the state assembly.
2006 witnessed many more anti-industrial activities by the TMC and their cohorts of different varieties from right reactionary to the left sectarian forces along with the so-called civil society patronisers. In the beginning of 2007, the same TMC attacked the WBIDC office without any reason whatsoever and if there is any reason it is only known to the attackers.
2007 also rolled on with lots of irrational and undemocratic activities unleashed by the TMC. These anti-industrialisation forces drawing people, especially hoodlums, from different parts of the state wanted to break down the walls on the perimeter of the factory, hurled bombs, and also attacked and injured five security guards of the factory.
In the beginning of 2008, the Kolkata High Court passed a verdict on the case against land acquisition in Singur lodged by the TMC and their patronisers. In its verdict the High Court clearly stated that the land acquisition is in accordance with the law of the land and thus legally valid. It further declared that the land acquisition was done for the sake of public interest.
The chief minister on different occasions wrote letters to the Trinamul chief inviting her for discussions. However, the latter refused to enter into any parleys. On the contrary, she declared that she would make a ‘great fun’ out of the entire governmental effort. In the third week of August of this year, TMC along with its rainbow alliance commenced blockade near the factory at Singur with a huge amount of expenditure, started to stay there, and made extensive arrangements for food and lodging sponsored by the rainbow combination and their patrons.
BLOCKADE AND AFTER
On August 20, the engineers and other staff of Tata Motors, comprising of both foreigners and Indians, were returning from the factory to their lodging, they were menacingly obstructed by the TMC-led protestors. At this point, the Tata Motors announced that they might think in terms of shifting out the factory away from Singur. During this critical period, the governor of Bengal started to negotiate with the TMC and organised different kinds of meetings where the Bengal chief minister and the industries minister as well as the panchayat minister took part. In certain meetings of this kind, the TMC chief and the chief minister took part in discussions in the presence of the governor.
It was decided through discussions that two persons from the TMC and two from the state government would discuss to find out the ways and means of solutions of the impasse that had rapidly developed. It was unfortunate that the representatives of the TMC did not want to keep on record what they had suggested at the meeting. Nor would they allow any minutes of the discussions to be kept and maintained. This very strange development was never opposed by the governor who wanted to act as the facilitator.
After all this, the new package was announced. The package covered very well the scenario of benefits of the land losers and the sharecroppers, including the agricultural labourers. The industries minister pointed out for the benefit of the people of Bengal that the new package signified a quantitative improvement on the earlier schemes. Apart from a 50 per cent hike in compensation for land, the package also included 10 per cent additional cost of the land price for the land acquired as contained in the earlier package. The beneficiaries can either utilise the funds through business initiative and / or via purchase of land elsewhere in the area.
After all this meticulous pro-people, pro-poor, pro-peasantry exercise, the setting up of a big automobile hub could not materialise at Singur. On October 3, the final curtain was rung down by Ratan Tata who declared that the small car project could not viably start functioning from Singur and that regretfully the Tata Motors would withdraw the project to elsewhere. This sad announcement just during the festival seasons deeply traumatised the people of Bengal, and not just of Singur.
It is a fact that closing down of the Singur automobile unit temporarily created negative impact on our battle for industrialisation. However, we do not want, by any means, to halt our onward march for the development of Bengal’s economy, and to create jobs for the millions of young men and women of the state. We cannot and must not forget that about 84 per cent cultivable lands in Bengal are in the hands of the small peasants, marginal farmers, and the rural poor, which was made possible through redistributive land reforms in the interest of the exploited masses.
It is a great irony that the destructive forces that always remained with the landlords, big and small, and jotdars (rich peasants) in rural Bengal, suddenly started shedding profuse amount of crocodile’s tears for the marginal farmers and other victims of the member of the feudal society. They tried to befool these sections of people.
If we draw the correct lesson from the history of industrialisation, we find that all battles in Europe had to be waged seriously against the feudal elements. We are sharply aware of the fact that Bengal had an important position in the industrial map of India in the days gone by. However, these industries were traditional in nature. They could not compete effectively in the market without modernisation and gradually over time were shattered by the immutable laws of the market forces. It should be taken note of that Bengal was discriminated against in the issuing of licences, and this went on for more than two-and-a-half decades. Bengal was handicapped by the discriminatory policy of freight equalisation as well.
In 1994, the then Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu announced a new industrial policy and gradually infrastructural development projects were undertaken for modern industries as well as the renovation of the traditional ones. A sustained campaign, and an improving industrial climate, were shaped by and were based on the increased purchasing capacity of rural Bengal.
It can hardly be denied that around Rs 30,000 crore worth of industrial products are being purchased in the rural market, leaving aside the urban centres. Through this process, at a time when the state government started receiving a positive response from different types of investors, TMC, and its cohorts started to try to make the wheel of progress grind backwards.
DEFEAT THESE FORCES OF DARKNESS
The directionless and aimless opposition had always thought that industrialisation would always be marked out as the success of the LF government; they never could think of whether opposition to industrialisation, especially pro-people industrialisation, would help the people of our state. They even shrilly shouted ‘we would not allow industry to take roots in Bengal because that will not help the peasantry.’
These ugly forces always pretended to be the friends of peasants and farmers and never considered that the highest amount of cultivable land are in the hands of poorest of the poor in the rural areas, incomparable with any other part of the country. Due to the fragmentation of land and the pressure of population through the increase in the families and family members, land is gradually becoming unviable as a source of livelihood.
Their implementing a game plan to put a halt to the development of Bengal by getting direct patronisation of reactionary forces both here and abroad and spending crores of rupees for their malicious campaign based on falsehood, the so-called important personalities who were present with them in every form of campaign are also coming out with funds from their shady sources.
These forces of darkness not only oppose industrial growth but also the infrastructural development through a violent mode and method, which would certainly vitiate the ambience of peace, unity, and amity amongst the people of Bengal. They wanted a few dead bodies to help along their nefarious game plan. The GOWB would not oblige them.
We are sharply aware of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people of the state especially the younger generation want the development of agriculture, industry, infrastructure, and job opportunities to facilitate a real and tangible economic growth of our Bengal.
Therefore, for the development and growth, the entire democratic masses of the people and especially the young men and women, must come forward to defeat the retrogressive elements who want to see the peace of the graveyard.
Singur industrialisation must continue: Biman Bose
KOLKATA: Left Front chairman Biman Bose on Saturday urged the West Bengal government to continue with its industrialisation programme in Singur, saying that this should be done to accommodate the local youth who had taken training in various trades in anticipation of an industrial project.
“They have been trained for months, selected and now they are deeply frustrated, the State government should see how they can be accommodated… the agenda of industrialising this area should go on,” he told a press conference.
“It is sad to see the exit of the Tatas from Singur, but other projects could be tried out here.” Industry Minister Nirupam Sen on Friday said that State government owned the land acquired at Singur and there was no question of returning it.
Mr. Bose also wanted a mass campaign to expose the people who had indulged in destructive politics, spelling the doom of the project. At a pressmeet elsewhere in the city, Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee said that the withdrawal by the Tatas from Singur was a victory for a people’s movement. She also said that all industrialists were welcome to invest in West Bengal and “it is myth that the industrialisation process will be halted due to one individual ….”
Mr. Bose said that while the TMC had repeatedly been called for talks over the last two years they had refused to come to the table, choosing the path of agitation instead. Even an appeal by veteran leader Jyoti Basu fell on deaf ears. He mentioned in this context that the voice of a majority of people was throttled by the Opposition and a project was derailed although 11,000 out of the total 12,000 land owners had given a thumbs up to the project. Mr. Bose also criticised the Congress for speaking in one voice with the TMC.
He said that India-U.S. nuclear deal would impact the country’s sovereignty.