The face-off between West Bengal farmers and government, first in Singur and later in Nandigram, is being erroneously depicted as a clash between ?progressive? industry and ?stagnant? agriculture, when the truth is simply that there is no justification for turning over fertile, multiple-crop supporting land for factories that could easily be constructed over degraded wastelands.
What is ignored in the pretended concern for investment and progress in the State is that by seizing agricultural land which is already well-connected to the markets and highways by roads, and handing over the same to rich industrialists, the State Government is giving them huge hidden subsidies by saving them the cost of building infrastructure in remote areas to connect with the main commercial centres or transit points.
Industry is thus saved a cost that is already built into its project report, and this windfall is at the cost of the humble farmer who ensures the food security of the entire country with his unceasing toil. The argument that a better compensation packet will provide the farmer a better livelihood in insensitive and fallacious; and the argument that the country will not progress until landed farmers are forced by state policy to become urban proletariat stinks of forced labour. If India is a democracy, farmers must decide whether or not they wish to farm in peace or rot in urban slums.
The fast disappearance of fertile land, especially along national highways, and the corresponding rise of factories and urban areas is a visible and disturbing trend nation-wide, and one that needs urgent redressal before the country faces an acute agricultural crisis. The rural poor do not need a compensation packet that is quickly dissipated, they need assured irrigation. It is a fallacy that industrialisation can provide employment to all those living in rural areas (about 65 per cent of the population); only agriculture can do that.
In these circumstances, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has done well to announce that the notification for land acquisition in Nandigram would be withdrawn, after violence unleashed by party cadres amidst tragic police apathy, led to the death of six villagers.
Amazingly, it now transpires that the Haldia Development Authority, which issued the land acquisition notices for 25,000 acres of land, did not have the authority to do so! Yet the administration tried to brazen it out, and despite early arson and violence, failed to ensure adequate security, which resulted in the death of six persons as a charged-up peasantry refused to yield ground to party goons. In the subsequent fall-out, the Chief Minister had little choice but to climb down and allow matters to cool down; this is wise, but he also owes it to the people of his state to acknowledge the guilt of his party cadres and make suitable amends.
Just as the Singur Special Economic Zone land was earmarked for a car project by the Tata?s, so the Nandigram SEZ was intended for the Indonesia-based Salim group'schemical hub. Both lands involved the ouster of thousands of farm families that either own the land legally, or have been farming at the site for generations, though lacking in legal title. These latter were simply ignored in the compensation packages, and would be simply ruined by the projects.
The Chief Minister will now have to appreciate that those who rule in the name of the hammer and sickle cannot use the hammer to crush the sickle! Chastened by the unexpected turn of events, Shri Bhattacharya has promised that the state government will henceforth resort to mapping and land-alignment and prepare a rehabilitation package in consultation with political parties, farmers and the landless people. This is a wise precaution, even if it comes rather late in the day.
The most pertinent aspect of the Singur-Nandigram face-offs, however, which remains unanswered by the political establishment to this day, is, why is the State Government serving as estate agent to rich industrial houses? And even if they do their own estate-hunting, why does it allow fertile agricultural land be converted into sterile industrial land? Inviting investment only involves a transparent policy of notifying land available for industrial purposes, and a corruption-free environment for industry to prosper. There is absolutely no cause for government to serve as the handmaiden of the corporate sector, as the Congress party has discovered after first chastising the MP who protested the scandalously sweet deal that the Reliance SEZ procured in Haryana.
After initially mistaking the protest as dissidence inspired by former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, the party realised that farmers across north India were agitated by the deal and made verbal u-turn. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was slow to react to Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee'sfast-unto-death in Singur, and it took the personal concern of President APJ Kalam to force him to step into the picture. Now the looming elections in Uttar Pradesh have forced Congress president Sonia Gandhi to make pro-farmer noises. None of this is good enough. BJP president Rajnath Singh was the first major national leader to support Ms. Banerjee in Singur; he should follow this up by taking up the larger issue of agricultural depression all over the country. A beginning can be made by asking the simple question?why are all farmer suicides coming from regions which have got the so-called benefits of the Green Revolution, and what exactly is it that insulates the traditional farmer of UP and Bihar from this trend. The answers will be interesting.