Security guards slammed the brakes on work at the Tata Small Car factory in Singur on Thursday after a rumour that half of them were going to be sacked.
They closed the gates and prevented workers from entering the plant. By noon, trucks carrying building material had lined up outside. The protesters then put up a CPM flag in front of the main gate.
Trouble began when the authorities allegedly informed the security guards — drawn from local youths and numbering about 700 — that only half of them would be needed for service. The guards, most of whom had lost their land or source of income from the land, started an agitation in Beraberi and Khaserveri villages in the morning.
"Around 700 villagers who lost their jobs in the fields but started working for the project were deployed by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. But they have become anxious after being told that WBIDC will reduce their number by half," said Jiyarul Haque, a local CPI(M) leader.
The protestors also alleged that police had lathicharged to disperse them. Gokul Santra, a Beraberi villager working for the project, said they were also not paid regularly. "As we started shouting slogans, the cops came to drive us away. They also beat up some of us." The police, however, denied the allegations.
He argued that they had not protested against the car project only on the assurance of receiving alternative jobs. "If now the authorities turn around and say that our jobs are gone, we can't accept that."
The WBIDC pays the guards Rs 68 per day.
Rabindra Nath Bhattacharya, the Trinamool MLA from Singur and the president of Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee, said these incidents were just waiting to happen.
"The CPM and the administration had convinced these villagers that the project would bring them jobs and there would be no unemployment problems and thus restrained them from joining the anti-acquisition movement. Now they have to fulfil their promises."