SINGUR: If an alleged sell-off started a historic revolution in Singur, a sell-out now mocks it. Land sharks allegedly protected by two Trinamool Congress leaders are gobbling up large patches of fertile land near the abandoned Tata Nano site.
Driving down Durgapur Expressway these days, you can see these patches of walled-off land. They tell a story no less coercive than the disputed acquisition during the Left Front government. Only this time, it’s worse because the Mamata Banerjee government claims not to see. And unlike the Nano project, where the government is giving a dole to even land labourers, farmers who are being lured/coerced into selling off their land have no one to turn to.
More than a hundred acres have already changed hands between Dankuni and Singur. And this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
The land sharks are breaking every law in the rulebook — and every resistance on the ground. Farmers who refuse to fall for their offers (that never materialize) suddenly see the plots around their farmland being taken up and walled off. Fly ash is dumped on the other plots, which is washed away by rain to adjoining plots, turning them infertile and leaving the farmer with no option but to accept the offer.
Commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee claimed innocence. “I am not aware of any such effort in Singur. However, my department will ascertain whether the land has been purchased for industry. In that case, the government won’t allow conversion of multi-crop land,” he said.
Becharam Manna, once a firebrand leader against the acquisition by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, now sees good reason in the sale of land by poor farmers “for a better price”. Junior agriculture minister in the Mamata cabinet, Becharam says: “All these plots come under the low mono-crop category, fetching little for the owners. As far as I know they yield boro crop only. This could be a reason for the sellout. No one has complained against the purchase.” He insists he “won’t allow anything illegal.” “Land developers have to take permission from authorities before they use it for infrastructure or industry,” he says.
So what is the price on offer? “It’s Rs 40 lakh an acre,” says Sushil Kharkia, spokesman of Shyam Industrial Park, who admits fencing off 50 acres. But farmers have a different story. Primary schoolteacher-cum-farmer Swaraj Ghosh said: “I had five bighas in the fenced area. They gave me Rs 8 lakh for an acre. I had no choice. The land sharks used to come to our place and dictate prices. When some farmers refused to sell their land they dumped fly ash on their land,” said Ghosh.
Compare this with the offer of the Left Front government for the Singur land that Mamata called “forcible acquisition”: Rs 8.9 lakh-Rs 12 lakh compensation per acre, an add-on 50% of the compensation price, plus a government job to each landloser family.
Primary schoolteacher-cum-farmer Swaraj Ghosh said, “The new buyers also promised a job in the warehouses, godowns and the mineral water plant to come up on our land. That was three months ago. They didn’t keep their word.”
The owners of these plots have not even taken permission for conversion in the nature of the agricultural land, which is a must under the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955.
“This is a blatant violation of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act. How could land developers fence the land without taking permission when the Mamata Banerjee government is opposed to illegal conversion of farmland?” said environment activist Kunal Guha Ray. She complained to the Hooghly land and land reforms officer on July 2 that Shyam Industrial Park and SKM Housing Pvt Ltd have gathered 117 acres in five mouzas under Singur and Chanditala police stations. She has mentioned the dag numbers.
“We won’t allow the conversion in the nature of land,” said Hooghly district magistrate Manmit Nanda. Sushil Kharkia is at a loss. “We gathered the land to set up small and medium industry units that the chief minister is harping on. We have built the boundary wall only after registration. Some farmers are unwilling to part with their land that comes within our project area,” he said.
Alarmed by the complaint, police rounded up two land agents from Dankuni and eight persons from Chanditala. “We are investigating the complaints as and when we are getting them and taking steps immediately,” said SP Tanmoy Roy Chowdhury.
Private buyout of land in Singur-Chanditala
1. Two firms have allegedly purchased 117 acres (350 bighas) of agricultural land and wetland
2. Roads have been constructed by filling up wetland with flyash
3. Permission has not been taken for conversion of land
4. Price on offer: Rs 40 lakh an acre, but farmers say it is Rs 8-10 lakh an acre
Acquisition by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in Singur
1. 997 acres spread over six mouzas in Singur
2. The purpose was to facilitate the setting up of the Tata Nano unit
3. Compensation: Rs 8.9 lakh-Rs 12 lakh per acre, plus 50% of compensation price and a job to each landloser family
Source: The Times of India