The place called Lalgarh is situated near Jhargram on the North-Western side of the West Medinipur district of West Bengal. It is not very far from Salboni area located in the same district. Around 5000 acres of land have been acquired for the Salboni project, of which 4,500 acres have been handed over by the government and 500 acres have been purchased directly by Jindal from the landowners. According to newspaper reports, a large portion of this land was vested with the government for distribution among landless tribal people as part of the much-publicised land reform programme and also included forests tracts. Moreover, although the land was originally acquired for a “usual” steel plant, in September 2007, Jindal got SEZ status for the project, with active backing from the state government, which, as always, dispensed with the requirements for following most regulations for building and running the plant, including such crucial requirements as doing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). A government that has in reality sold itself out to big capital—both domestic and foreign—is not at all bothered about the setting up of an SEZ having a polluting steel plant in the middle of a forested area, brutally displacing tribals from their land and endangering their means of survival. It is, thus, quite understandable that there could be major grievances among the tribals against this, although the mainstream media, as one of the spokespersons of the State policy, had constantly portrayed a very rosy picture of the entire project.
After the faltering ‘industrialization’ and ‘development’ bid of the ‘left’ front government in Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal, Salboni in West Medinipur district was the next on the list in the so-called industrialisation process under the imperialist globalization in Bengal. ‘Left’ front went a step ahead after Singur and Nandigram’s forcible land acquisition episodes and handed over 4,500 acres of government’s vested land and forest area to the Jindal Group. Taking en-route of deception another 500 acres of land were bought from the tribals by the Jindals for their upcoming 35,000 crore rupees mega steel factory (JSW Bengal Steel Limited) on 5,000 acres of land in total.
Here a relevant matter that comes up is that tribal land is not transferable legally and transfer of right of the forest area is unlawful as well. But to the utter amazement of the people of Bengal, the whole process took place and the tribal welfare department and the forest department maintained a studied silence. And the most amazing fact is that in 32 years of so-called ‘left’ front rule in Bengal. This vested land remained vested and instead of distributing the land to the poor landless tribals it was handed over to the steel tycoon. Jindals had their foundation stone laying ceremony of the project on 2nd November, 2008. The ceremony wore the look of a CPI (M) party Congress or party’s state conference as the entire ceremony was organised by the CPI(M). The red scaffold at the entrance of the venue bore the word of CITU written in the middle with ‘Silpa chai’ (we need industrialisation) slogans inscribed on both flanks. DYFI flags were fluttering all over with unplugged enthusiasm of the party leaders and cadres taking care of every tit-bit, even of the invitee list for the programme. Nothing was amiss as in a CPI (M) party’s conference with placards, posters, festoons, banners flags all over.
Central minister of Steel, Fertilizer and Chemicals, Ram Vilas Paswan attended with the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s, Trade & Industry minister Nirupam Sen and other ‘left’ front and Congress ministers. In a difficult situation of global meltdown when the crisis in the capitalist system is being felt all over the globe and international steel market is at its new low, Sajjan Jindal, owner of Jindal Steel
Works, Bengal made pious platitudes to the poor tribals and people of Bengal. His 35,000 crore steel factory with a capacity of producing 1 crore tonnes of steel annually will come up in three stages. According to him, as published in the CPI (M) mouth piece (Bengali daily, Ganasakti, 3-11-’08), within the year 2012 the plant would produce 30 lakh metric tonnes of steel and it will be gradually doubled to 60 lakh metric tonnes by the year 2015. It claimed they will reach one crore metric tonnes per annum by 2020, rendering direct employment to 5,000, 12,000, and 20,000 respectively and will create double the number of indirect employment.
Henceforth, in an attempt to clarify his fake transparency on buying the land from the tribals and rehabilitation issue, he said, they were cautious enough while making the layout of the plant and tried to save village land and homesteads. One member of each family that parted with their land will be given employment in the plant after putting him in to training. The so-called land givers have been “compensated” and given company shares which can be sold after the plant starts production on a commercial basis. Moreover, they verbally assured, projecting themselves as social reformers, coming out with dollops of promises that the ICFAI of Kolkata is making arrangements for the training of the local people of Salboni for their employment; syllabus for the training is being prepared. Their generosity cannot leave village girls from employment opportunity and so BPO centres have been promised to be set up at the earliest for their employment. Even they had made arrangements to give out health services in Salboni through NGOs. An ambulance has also been arranged. Arrangements for setting up of animal husbandry and watershed schemes are also said to be there in their agenda to carry on their corporate social responsibilities.
Praises were showered by the CPI (M) on the Jindals for their so-called show of responsibility for the society in the hour of global inflation and crisis in the international steel market. No stones were left unturned by the ‘left’ front’s Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s and Trade and Industry minister Nirupam Sen in projecting them as the trend setters in carrying out their social responsibilities. They would have us believe that the steel tycoon is here not for profitable business interest but for serving public interest.
The capitalist friendly Industry minister and Central Committee member of the CPI (M) in justification of the huge plant took refuge under the clichéd logic: Employment generation through industry, increase of employment and then the resultant widening of market and once again the widening of the scope of industrial development. [Ganasakti, 3-11-‘08]
Such people never disclose the fact that the circle of this logic has gone stale in a country like ours at this stage of decaying capitalism. The Chief Minister Buddhadeb as an agent of imperialist globalization echoed the same as he did before; he could visualize thousands and lakhs employed through this ‘industrialisation’ process. So he turns a blind eye towards lakhs and lakhs of displaced farmers and tribals and their indescribable distress. He bases his arguments on imperialist globalization that has already been in the doldrums. So, barely a week after the jamboree in Salboni, Mr. Buddhadeb made such a notorious comment at a corporate chambers meet that “it (globalization) is a must”. Thus it is apt to say in this context that he finds forcible land acquisition inevitable for the smooth inroads of imperialist globalization. Good Bye Marxism!
The impact of the global crisis has already sent tremors in the Indian service sector. Corporate houses have now taken to mass trimming of working heads, cut down in wages or pay packets, shutting down of industries, stopping production capacity, etc. Since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s assumption of office as the Chief Minister in 2001 till 2003 in West Bengal 12-06-086 people lost jobs and in this period only 25,149 people got absorbed in to jobs (including jobs on casual or contract basis). From 2004 to 2006 a total of 4, 24,000 were shown the door while only 84,000 people could land in jobs. Between 2007 and 2008 the situation has obviously worsened, belying the scope of a modest job generation in a serious economic crisis. As a whole, when the total industrial scenario is dismal, West Bengal’s ‘left’ front government is crying out loud about lakhs and lakhs of employment generation. But ironically enough, the CITU supremo Mr. A.K. Pardhe recently wrote to the Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh to stop trimming of employees.
The Prime Minister, however, is busy fulfilling the wish list of the corporate lobby in several ways by cutting in repo rates, providing liquidity to the share market, increasing the FDI investments in the insurance sector from 26% to 49% and so on. But the corporate houses turned a deaf ear to his appeal to avoid retrenchments. Keeping an eye on the level of their profits, they resort to closures, cut down in wages, and salaries and retrenchment. The ‘left’ front in Bengal puts forth its faith in such corporate tycoons and gives it a label ‘development’. A point to be noted here is that very recently, that is on November 7, 2008, JSW Steel which is projected as a saviour of Bengal, opted for a 20% cut in production.
The most awesome fact is that the game of terrible deception is found in calculated silence in not clearly disclosing the SEZ status given to the Jindal Steel Works, Bengal. For the last two years the Jindal Group had discussion after discussion with the ‘left’ front government on various issues of the plant, but the Jindals and the government showed no effort to make the people of Bengal know about the SEZ and kept the people in the dark. All of a sudden on 24th August, 2008 the government of Bengal declared that Jindal Steel Works, Bengal as an SEZ project. Special Economic Zone (SEZ), exactly what it means is the formation of a ‘foreign country within the country’, where no civil laws or industrial laws of the country will be applicable. The right to movements and strikes will be snatched away. Commodities purchased for the project and the produced commodities of the project will be free from any type of taxes. The plant will enjoy the facility of getting water and electricity free. Jindal Group will enjoy the right to export the entire production of steel of the Salboni plant to foreign countries, i.e. other countries, mostly in the West, will be benefited. These types of steel plants are dangerously harmful for the environment, even though no existing environmental law will be applicable to the project. So, the nearby Subarnarekha River and the total forest area lying in the three districts of Bankura-Purulia-Medinipur will be dangerously polluted.
On the question of compensation package for the land owners, the Jindals tried to project themselves as ‘avtars’ when actually they are doing just the opposite. In fact, compensation package fails to be clean or clear. The tribals, innocent and mostly illiterate, were befooled by giving them 3 lakh of rupees for 1 acre of land, 1,50,000 in cash and the other one lakh and fifty thousand through company shares. The records of this will remain with the district magistrate. Shares might be sold out after the plant starts its production on a commercial basis. Here lies the fraudulence. In times of such an international monetary crisis, the fall in the international steel market, with the shut downs and curtailment of productions of corporate house, when everything is uncertain whether JSW, Bengal plant will ever start production or only remains as a iron ore processing plant. The second factor is that in this international crisis scenario profit making worth its name is virtually impossible. If Jindal Steel tycoon doesn’t gain profit, how come the land losers with company shares will gain profit? Therefore, the issue of company shares to the land losers is questionable in itself. The start of production in the plant is doubtful, let alone the fulfilment of promises for jobs in thousands by the Jindal Group in the Salboni plant.
The steel tycoon Jindals will actually export steel from Salboni for the rich capitalist countries. The target of the ‘left’ front government is to hand over forest land, water and valuable minerals to the native and foreign corporate houses to smoothen the imperialist globalization process. Singur and Nandigram bore the brunt of this process. About 997 acres multi-cropped land was forcibly acquired by the CPI (M) government, unleashing large scale terror and repression for the Tata’s small car factory. Tata Motors shifted its factory from Singur to Gujarat with a dubious aim. The highly fertile Singur land has been rendered uncultivable and it still lies in the possession of the Tatas. Ratan Tata now says that the land will remain in possession since the lease fees have been paid for two years in advance. In Nandigram, the state-sponsored genocide was organised to grab the land for a huge Chemical hub to be built by the Salem Group of Indonesia. The historic resistance of Nandigram foiled this conspiracy and the struggle is still on against CPI (M)’s goons and state police forces. Now the ‘left’ front has set its eye on Nayachar, an adjacent island to set up the dangerous chemical hub. The tribals of Salboni are getting aware of the conspiracy and the Jindals, as later developments would show, would not be able to rest in peace.
The circumstances leading to the Lalgarh rebellion were as follows: On 2 November 2008, the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee and the Central Iron and Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan went to Salboni to inaugurate the Special Economic Zone complex of the Jindal industrial house along with a huge police convoy. On their way back, there was a landmine explosion when the convoy of the Union minister was passing, as a result of which a police car was hit and some policemen were injured. Sometime before the explosion, the convoy of the Chief Minister had passed away.
As usual, the Maoist insurgents, like ‘the universal whipping boy’ were blamed for it. Usually, the police harass, torture, detain and humiliate people after every Maoist attack, as had been shown by a number of fact-finding teams comprising civil rights activists and others. This time too, in order to conceal their own failure in providing security to their political bosses and to save their skin from the seniors, the police went on a rampage in the tribal villages. The Buddhadev-led police forces had all along been perfecting their methods of repression with total impunity and they knew their job well. Having no clue about the real perpetrators of the landmine explosion, they started beating up and arresting people indiscriminately. The police and the CRPF, led by the officer-in-charge of Lalgarh police station, Sandip Sinha Roy and the Superintendent of Police of West Medinipur district, Rajesh Singh, unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh.
Around 4 AM on 5th November 2008, a huge police force entered Chhotopelia village of Lalgarh and let loose a reign of terror. They attacked and beat up the adivasi women like mercenary goons.
Chhitamoni Murmu was asleep in her hut when she suddenly woke up to see that someone was trying to forcibly take away her husband. When she resisted, her clothes were lifted up by the police and she was hit on the left eye with the rifle butt and she ultimately lost her eyesight. Fourteen other women also sustained injuries on various parts of their upper bodies, legs and hands.
Some among them are Panmoni Murmu, Domani Murmu and Gangamoni Murmu. Kshamananda Mahato, an old retired school teacher of the village and Surya Mahato of Gormal in Salboni were picked up and detained. On 3rd November, they picked up three school students of classes VII, VIII and IX, namely Eben Murmu, Goutam Patra and Buddhadev Patra when they were returning from Kantapahari market after listening to a baul song programme.
Three other persons—Bhagabat Hansda, Sunil Hansda and Sunil Mandi—were also arrested on 5th. The policemen went to arrest one Dipak Protihar. His pregnant wife, Lakshmi Protihar was forcibly dragged and then thrown on the road and beaten up. The whole operation was led by Sandip Sinha Roy, the police in-charge officer of Lalgarh police station. The police used abusive language of all conceivable type and picked them up on the charge of being Maoists linked to the mine blast. Evidently, the police came to arrest Sasadhar Mahato and Karan Hembrom who were allegedly involved in the mine explosion. Lalgarh or Binpur—where these police atrocities were committed—are areas which are very far from the site of the mine-blast. It is difficult to comprehend the logic behind the police terror perpetrated in those far-off areas.
(First two chapters of the booklet – Singur to Lalgarh via Nandigram)
The author Prof. Amit Bhattacharyya teaches at the Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
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