LOOKEAST REPORT |
At least 10,000 farmers, Bargadars and agricultural workers launched a massive march towards Kolkata on Wednesday. The national highway lit up in the afternoon sun, as the farming community of rural Bengal, holding aloft giant Red flags, briskly covered 10 kms in just under three hours. The gritty farmers and farm workers are participating ‘Singur Kisan March’, and will reach Kolkata Thursday to mark the culmination of the ‘Singur to Raj Bhavan Abhijan’.
In Kolkata, they will be joined by more than 40,000 of their comrades, who have been conducting similar campaigns throughout the day in other parts of the state. Rural communities of West Bengal, be they landholders or agriculture workers, have mobilised themselves to draw attention to the multiple crises triggered by the anti–farmer policies of the Central and state governments.
The ‘Singur to Raj Bhavan’ campaign is being jointly organised by the West Bengal units of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) and forms an important part of the all India ‘Kisan Mukti March’, that will end in New Delhi on November 30. The New Delhi farmer mobilization is being organized by the All India Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) an umbrella organisation of nearly 180 unions.
Shockingly, in the last four years, 57,000 acres of farmland have been turned into wasteland in West Bengal. Nearly 100 acres of fertile land in Haringhata, Nadia, was handed over to e-commerce giant Flipkart, when non-fertile land in Raghunathpur, Purulia, was available for the purpose
AIKS general secretary, Hannan Mollah, inaugurates the march from Ratanpur, Singur, where supporters from various parts of south Bengal converged. Among them, 2,500 supporters will proceed towards Kolkata via Bally in Howrah. The local people of Bally have enthusiastically agreed to open their homes for the farmers to rest for the night. Workers and members of AIKS and AIAWU will be working round the clock to facilitate the journey of the farmers, by co–coordinating their food and resting arrangements.
On November 29, nearly 16,000 farmers and agricultural workers will convene at Bally Ghat to start their march towards Kolkata. They will be joined by realists from East & West Medinipur and other districts and together, these 37,000 supporters will cross the iconic Howrah Bridge around half past noon, and proceed towards Rani Rashmoni Road in central Kolkata, where they will be met by their counterparts from North & South 24 Parganas and Nadia. CPI(M) State Secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra, AIKS State Secretary Amal Halder, AIAWU State Secretary Amiya Patra, AIAWU State President Tushar Ghosh will address this gathering of 50,000 farmers and workers. AIKS State President Nripen Chowdhury will preside over the meeting.
On Wednesday, AIKS general secretary, Hannan Mollah, inaugurated the mega rally from Ratanpur in Singur. Mollah said, “Relentless pursuit of neo–liberal policies, ever since the introduction of economic reforms, had already brought disaster to farmers, but the havoc wrought by Narendra Modi–led NDA is unprecedented in the entire history of independent India. The need of the hour is to make farmers and their problems an election issue, instead of getting diverted to religious controversies.”
As the march took off, many young people from Kolkata also joined the farmers, in order to express their support. Along their way to Dankuni in Howrah, they were cheered on by local people who came out of their homes in large numbers, waited by the highway and offered food and water. The mood was kept upbeat with vibrant music and slogans. Also, in a departure from the past, the rally was ‘broadcast’ almost live on social media as young participants, armed with smart–phones, clicked videos and photographs and disseminated those almost immediately. As in other parts of the country, in West Bengal too, the Singur Kisan March received considerable support from eminent poets, artists, theatre personalities, students and citizens from all walks of life.
Later, CPI(M) West Bengal State Secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra joined the second half of the rally, which finally halted upon reaching Dankuni in the early evening. At least 2,500 people then moved on to Bally in Howrah and will be accommodated in the homes of local residents for the night. Workers and members of AIKS and AIAWU have been working in close co–ordination to facilitate the journey of the farmers.
Landholders of Singur are now in extreme distress, as farming is no longer viable in this area, which remains choc–a–bloc with concrete chunks, iron debris and reeds. Farmers say they no longer recognise their land and are also unsure if the plots have been demarcated correctly. Many of them have moved on to odd jobs and are in no position to invest lakhs of rupees to make the land viable again
SINGUR; A RURAL COMPLEXITY
Singur was chosen as the starting point of the ‘Kisan March’ because of the sheer complexity of the problem it poses. Ten years after Tata Motors was forced to abandon its auto manufacturing complex, due to relentless protests by Trinamul Congress, which was then in opposition, the people of the area have been struggling with uncertainty and loss of livelihood. After coming to power in 2011, the Trinamul Congress government made multiple contradictory announcements as to the fate of the 997 acres of acquired land and went in for litigation. On August 31, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that the entire land acquired by the West Bengal Government be returned to the land–holders in cultivable condition. Shockingly, even after more than two years, a minuscule 11 acres is being used for farming.
The landholders of Singur are now in extreme distress, as farming is no longer viable in this area, which remains choc–a–bloc with concrete chunks, iron debris and reeds. Farmers say they no longer recognise their land and are also unsure if the plots have been demarcated correctly. Many of them have moved on to odd jobs and are in no position to invest lakhs of rupees to make the land viable again. With their land reduced to waste, the people of Singur, especially the young sons, now want industry to be kick–started. The situation is similar in other parts of West Bengal too, where land was painstakingly acquired for industry, during the Left Front government, but no effort has been made in the last seven years to attract investments.
Most shockingly, in the last four years, 57,000 acres of farmland have been turned into wasteland in West Bengal. Nearly 100 acres of fertile land in Haringhata, Nadia, was handed over to e–commerce giant Flipkart, when non–fertile land in Raghunathpur, Purulia, was available for the purpose. Moreover, the government is busy wasting public money organising various festivals, but fails to pay crop insurance premium, on behalf of farmers. The Chief Minister’s trips to foreign countries, apparently to attract investment, has not yielded any result up till now. The farm sector in West Bengal is being crushed by the harsh policies of both the Centre and the State.
On Thursday, nearly 16,000 farmers and agricultural workers from East & West Midnapore and other districts will converge and all eyes will be on an estimated 37,000 people when they cross the iconic Howrah Bridge around half past noon, and proceed towards Rani Rashmoni Road in central Kolkata. Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra, AIKS State Secretary Amal Halder, AIAWU State Secretary Amiya Patra, AIAWU State President Tushar Ghosh will address nearly 50,000 farmers and workers. AIKS State President Nripen Chowdhury will preside over the meeting. ■