Land issue in Nandigram(West Bengal)

Land issue in Nandigram

However, with the onset of liberalization in the early 1990’s, several huge conglomerates set up shop in various parts of the company. This required huge tracts of land for the plants to be set up. And the most readily available land was that which was used for agriculture; mostly by small and/or poor farmers. And thus came about the issue of land acquisition. Even though it has been widely practiced throughout the country, it has seldom come into the spotlight. That is, until the issue of Nandigram came into the limelight and made the country take notice.

Nandigram Land Issue

Nandigram is a rural area in the Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal. It neighbors the port town of Haldia. The area is primarily, or rather almost completely, agricultural in nature. Although it is not easily accessible, its proximity to Haldia port was of much importance. The total population of the place is more than 400,000. Nandigram gained importance due to the proposed SEZ and the accompanying petrochemical hub in the area.

The majority of the population is comprised of Muslims and lower caste Hindus. Betel leaves represent the only commercial crops and brick kilns constitutes the only industrial activity. The literacy rates are abysmally low –to the order of 27 per cent, as against the West Bengal state average of 69 per cent. Therefore, one can assume the extreme levels of backwardness in the area.

The total area of Nandigram is 413 square kilometer of which the area affected was to the order of 60 square kilometers which included 5 Gram Panchayats. The total number of people who were to lose their land to the proposed SEZ was estimated to be about 65,000.

The initial plans, to set up the chemical hub, were started way back in 2005 when the CPM Politburo gave the green signal to the proposed SEZ. In the same year, the MoU was signed between Indonesian Salim group and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation for the same. However, there were controversies at this time, too on the acquisition of agricultural land for industrial purposes. The stand of the government was that industrialization was the only way forward for the progress of the state, but that would not lead to the State’s and the people’s interest being harmed in any way.

In 2006, it was decided that Nandigram would be the site for the proposed SEZ due to its proximity with the Haldia port. Soon along, there were many groups, mainly backed by various opposition political parties voicing their protests against the acquisition of land that would take place. At the same time, the HDA (Haldia Development Authority) announces that it would go on with the land acquisition.

On the 2nd of January 2007, the HDA put up a notice for land acquisition. However, this was not taken lightly by the villagers who protested against the same the next day at the Panchayat Office. This led to an unprovoked attack by the policemen on the protesting villagers. Many were injured. In retaliation, both against the attack and the notice for the acquisition, the villagers cut off all modes of travel and communication to the village. The villages also attacked a nearby CPM office and set it on fire. The violence continued when the following day, CPM cadres and the police continued to try to take over the village. These incidents led to the formation of a unified committee called the BUPC ( Bhumi Uchchhed Prathirodh Committee). On the 7th, a violent battle involving guns took place between the mob (BUPC) and the CPM cadres, which left 4 people (officially) dead. The violence and the murders led the government to take reconciliatory measures.

Two months passed by without any major incidents occurring. However, on the 14th of March, on receiving information that police and CPM cadres were planning to enter the area and claim it, the BUPC planned to defend their land. However, the attackers opened gunfire and violence ensued. On the whole, 14 people were (official numbers) murdered.

The reactions to the above were very strong and almost entirely, against the government and CPM. The violence was strongly condemned from all quarters. This led to the Chief Minister announcing that the proposed chemical hub project would be shelved if the people did not want it. The Kolkata High Court ordered a CBI probe into the incident. And after the incidents of March 14, violence has broken out in Nandigram several times, the most prominent of them being the ones that occurred during November 2007. However, these incidents have not led to the loss of any lives.

Consequences of Nandigram Land Issue

Nandigram, on the other hand, will be the site of the proposed chemical hub according to the district administration and several other members of the CPM. The Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee persists with the view that industrialization is the only way forward.
CPM has ever since been attacked on this issue on both the national and regional levels even to the present day. Nandigram, traditionally a CPM stronghold, elected a TMC candidate as their MLA in the recent by-elections.

Moving Forward

Now that the issues have been finalized, the solutions should be sought after. There is no doubt that the process of industrialization should go on. However, so should the life of normal farmers and others dependent on land. Therefore, any proposed solution should be inclusive of both views. The industry could be established at a locality where the interference it would cause, both to nature and humans, would be minimal. Although this would mean that the industrialists would incur more expenses and subsequently receive fewer profits, it would be completely worth it.

In the case of the above situation not happening, i.e. people have to be evicted from their lands, a much better strategy would be to compensate in the form of land, rather than money. Although this sounds farfetched considering the difficulty to appropriate land, it would be a much more meaningful exercise as it would ensure that the peasants still get to follow their old livelihood.

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