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Villagers ready to die for land

The proposed Tata Motors? factory that promises to change the face of rural Singur is not finding many takers, reports Aloke Banerjee.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2006 03:31 IST

The proposed Tata Motors’ factory that promises to change the face of rural Singur is not finding many takers.

Narayan Das of Berabari does not want to part with his land. Job has never been his priority with two MA degrees in his kitty. “My land has funded my education and has given me a roof on my head,” he says, pointing to a three-storied building nearby. “Tell your chief minister that I don't need a job in a car factory,” the 45-year-old man said on Wednesday.

Das reflects the mood of Singur — a cluster of villages, 40 km from Kolkata. It is the new flashpoint of Bengal politics: A battle between agriculture and industry.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s slogan of “development through industry” does not hold good here. The villagers of Singur are affluent.

This was perhaps why women and children of Beraberi, Bajemalia, Purba Gopal Nagar, Khasher Bheri, Dobandhi and Gopal Nagar demonstrated with black flags for over three hours — when the Left rank and filed vowed to crush all voices of dissent to set up the automobile factory, at a rally on Wednesday. The villagers, armed with sickles and sticks, were in war mode. “Kill us. Shoot us. Only then, you will get our land,” yelled 73-year old Chunibala Das, brandishing her stick. The policemen were at loss. They had no idea how to treat the old woman.

The 10 villages, which will empty themselves out for the car factory, are no mud-and-thatch shanty-towns. Most of the homes are pucca and almost every family owns a two-wheeler. Landless peasants are a rarity and 1,500 farm hands from Burdwan — Bengal's rice bowl — are in Singur to till the land this year. Another 300 have travelled all the way from Ranchi in Jharkhand. “The average daily wage in our state is Rs 30. But here, we get Rs 110, a kg of rice, along with lunch and dinner,” says Bhikhu Oraon, a tribal from Ranchi. “How much more the car factory can give us,” asks Basudeb Das, a CPI(M) member from Bajemelia.

“Work is not in short-supply. There are plots to till round the year,”' says Atul Santra, who has come from Nabagram to work on Gadadhar Patra’s fields. Patra is one of the few farmers of Khaser Bheri, who has sold a part of his land to the Tata Motors Factory.

The Bengal government is acquiring land at random. Crop pattern and fertility are of little importance. “It is not true that the government is taking over only mono crop or double-crop land,” says Kajal Das, a graduate from Konnagar College. “My father raises five crops a year. We don’t need to buy rice or vegetables and we earn a lot by selling potato and jute. Will the car factory match the money we make every year?” she wanted to know.

CPI(M) central committee member Benoy Konar, however, is not convinced. “If they sell their land and deposit the money in a bank, the interest will be much more than what they are earning now. The factory will come up in Singur — and nowhere else. It’s a challenge,” he thundered.

Email Aloke Banerjee: alokebanerjee@hindustantimes.com