Calcutta Notebook

The trouble in the Jangalmahal is now widely accepted as the product of years of looting the entitlements of the poor and encouraging police atrocities as the form of punishment for Maoist activities in the region. Unfortunately, it is viewed, post electorally, by the present ruling party as a law and order problem requiring, even now, as many companies of para-military forces as before, at the taxpayer's expense. If this left any doubt that the present ruling party in West Bengal is not on the side of the poorest of the poor, the residue should disappear on mulling over the cruel and heartless methods being used to boot out the section of the homeless in Nonadanga who have not surrendered to the local construction mafia and the TMC party. By a now familiar sequence of goebbelspeak, their resistance was declared to be a Maoist conspiracy and the police alleged the presence of arms dumps in the area. While the Nonadanga beating up was in full progress, the ruling party saw fit to host a Bollywood star-led carnival for a 'Kolkata victory' in a cricket bash, budgeted in crores, and thickly infested by bookies and speculators. A showpiece of a gold ornament ("heavy", so report the compatriots) was gifted to the star.

All this, and the use of authority and force in students' union elections, emergence of local leaders as mafiosi attached to property developing rackets, and high-handed methods in suppressing independent criticism and dissent, witness the cartoon imbroglio, has led to the precipitation of a kernel of really concerned citizens out of the amorphous band of self-proclaimed pro-changers and no-changers inhabiting the virtual universe of talk shows. This is a good outcome.

What is not good is an attempt to promote brotherhood with the other hood, the previous ruling party. The CPI(M)'s promotion of bonhomie with the future President, its attempt to regroup the 'willing' owners to justify its pro-big capital surrender in Singur are all legitimate tricks of parliamentary oligocracy. It would be sad if parts of the left in their justified disillusion and outrage at the partisanship and authoritarianism of the present rulers, fall into the trap set for them by the CPI(M), whose justification of the Sen-Bhattacharya pro-big capital policy continues unabated.

In a timely intervention, a Jadavpur don has highlighted a report on Singur prepared by a London School of Economics team, led by a scion of the Ghatak clan, himself another rising economist inflicted on the world by Kolkata. Ghatak may not be best pleased by the use to which his findings are being put, the report being, after all, a LSE document pointing to the relevance of the private sector, but such are the travails of postmodern deconstruc-tionism!

The past rulers claimed that 96% of the 997 acres of land "sold" to the Tatas was Sali, one-crop land, while the LSE report finds 63% was one-crop land and the rest multi-crop land. The land was being well-irrigated for many years and even more land might have been multi-cropped.( "sold" is a farce word. In Gujarat, according to Nirmal Chandra, the Tatas paid Rs 36 lakhs per acre for the purchase of average agricultural land with one-fourth of the productivity of Singur land, while the prime Singur land was priced at Rs 5 lakhs per acre by the past rulers. Still, it pains them if they are called lackeys of big capital).

The Singur land was spoilt for agriculture by the Tatas. The loss in terms of paddy alone in the last 6 years, assuming a productivity of 1346 kg per acre and double cropping in 50% of the land, amounted to Rs 50 crs. The report wishes to add to this the loss in other crops like potatoes and the human cost in terms of uncertainty, anxiety and stress. This cost should be claimed from the Tatas if they leave with compensation in their pockets, after pouring asphalt on prime agricultural land.

The past rulers claimed that 9839 'owners' accepted cheques for their land up to Dec 2006, while the 2011 census identified only 4977 households in the affected mouzas, of whom again only 1000 owned or rented land. This points to a plethora of multiple ownership, absentee ownership and agricultural and non-agricultural workers of different varieties all of whom lost their livelihood.

The CPI(M) is again trying to cover up the paucity of possible jobs had the Tatas built their factory. They cannot deny that the factory envisaged a strength of 700 workers, so they wave their arms to build in the air ancillary factories, markets, other industries, a flourishing hub, radiating good living after, yes, some years. Alas, the automotive industry, hard-headed as they are, have an estimate of 6 to 7 ancillary jobs per job in the parent factory. So, 5-6000 jobs in all. And 10, 000 people dispossessed of livelihood. What of the flourishing hub? Billions of blistering blue barnacles! The Hind Motor factory is there for all to see and its townships, the suburban slums of Makhla and Uttarpara. After about 50 years on land practically gifted to them by the Congress; rulers of the day, the Birlas, recently, sold off land from the factory to land developers. It couldn't make its factory flourish, leave alone the surroundings. Old capitalism does not give jobs, a reality neo-liberals will never admit.

The CPI(M) has never conceded the relevance of willingness to part with the land demanded for the purpose of acquisition and, quite consistently, is now demanding treatment of 'willing' and 'unwilling' owners at par. While in government, they refused responsibility for resettlement, and did nothing to guide or help the people, who had accepted cheques, to resettle in any manner of stability. 89% put the money into fixed deposits, which do not pay at a real rate of more than 2-3% with prevailing rates of inflation. Their state, now, is not much less sorry than their counterparts who lost their land, but did not accept cheques. In any case, the average compensation paid was ridiculously low—Rs 8.75 lakhs.

The chief minister is accused of haste, but there was pressure from the latter section who had not accepted cheques in the hope of getting back land, an appreciating asset, even if not viable for agriculture. After winning the elections, the ruling party took no responsibility for their well-being, and there was ominous restiveness which forced quick legislation. The chief minister knew the emotive and symbolic value of Singur and deduced that some land had to be returned as per election promises. However, this is becoming more and more a government of incapable sycophants, and, whoever, wrote the Bill didn't know that Item 42 of the Concurrent list comprised Requisition and Acquisition of property, and the President's assent was essential for the bill to become law. There is some ambiguity, though, because Item 6 which deals with transfer of property excludes agricultural land, specifically. But, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will agree to qualify the unqualified Item 42 with Item 6.

No political force is in Singur because it loves the people of Singur. The CPI(M) wants political advantage, the ruling party wants to retain its hold. But, motives apart, as far as the two main issues of resisting the transfer of agricultural land to profit-making private concerns, and resisting forcible acquisition of agricultural land are concerned, the present chief minister's position on Singur continues to have a positive aspect unlike the totally negative pro-big stand of the previous incumbent. The law's delay also forced the government to dole out some assistance finally. There is no doubt, also, that there is an indulgence, as it were, towards the protests of some of the people of Singur. But, no indulgence will survive if these sections show any sign of leaving the TMC. The administration will come down on Singur like half a ton of bricks, half a ton being reserved because of the name Singur, but half a ton is itself no joke.
It would be silly to poke fun because the case was lost. The loss is of the land-owning people of Singur. Also, cancellation of the concurrent list is a demand of the left. The less power the centre has the better it is, because the clout of big capital is greatest at the centre. All the signs now point towards the promulgation of a pro-big capital land acquisition law at the centre.

The parliamentary standing committee on rural development had submitted a report which wanted to rule out land acquisition for transfer to enterprises run for profit, and restrict the scope of land acquisition by the government to development in the infrastructure and social sectors, routing acquisition even in these sectors through the states. Private and PPP enterprises would buy land directly from the owners in the open market. The states would have the power to determine market prices and compensation, and Gram Sabhas and Gram Panchayets would have to be consulted at every stage of acquisition. A spokesman of the National Advisory Committee, headed by Sonia Gandhi, opposed most of these points, and advocated land acquisition by the government for transfer to enterprises run for profit, and removal of restriction on governmental acquisition outside the two sectors mentioned. The central government has rejected the report of the standing committee, presumably to incorporate the NAC demands on behalf of big capital. So, on the question of Singur, the left would do better if it organised movements to oppose the rejection of the report of the parliamentary committee and inclusion of pro-big capital clauses in the land acquisition bill, on the one hand, and return the relevant land to the "unwilling" owners of Singur, on the other.

Vol. 45, No. 3, July 29-August 4, 2012