While Bengal is still simmering in the land agitation at Bhangar on the fringes of Kolkata, a new chapter of protest was inaugurated in Bolpur of Birbhum district in south Bengal with villagers agitating against a proposed university that will be set up on a 20-acre plot of land.
On Monday more than 100 villagers descended on the plot of land -- nabout 20 acre -- and smashed an under-construction boundary wall. They also set tyres of fire and placed them along the boundary. Villagers armed with iron rods and sticks broke a temporary shed where the construction workers were staying and chased them away.
Speaking at a teacher’s conference in Kolkata on January 7, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced that her government will set up the university close to Tagore’s Visva Bharati. “We will build this Biswa Bangla university for which land has been identified. Work will commence soon,” she said.
On January 14 the chief minister surveyed the plot and the district administration was preparing for construction activity from early March.
The area is politically dominated by Trinamool Congress and its formidable district president Anubrata Mondal.
Incidentally, various Left parties have called a rally in Kolkata on Monday to protest against the Bhangar power grid project and in support of the agitators.
In 2001 the land was acquired by the Left Front government through West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation for setting up industry. The 20-acre plot is a part of a 300-acre stretch where a IT hardware park and a theme city are also coming up. The land owners received compensation too.
On Monday, the angry villagers chiefly consisted of sharecroppers who were not paid any compensation. While they numbered around 60, some locals also joined in pushing the number above 100.
“When the government took the land, they told us it was for industry. It will give jobs to some local youths which will not be possible if a university comes up,” said Sheikh Yusuf of Kashipur village. His uncle’s land was acquired by the government.
Sudhir Kumar Nilkanth, police super of Birbhum, “A team has rushed there led by the subdivisional police officer. We have posted a team there.”
“Some Naxals and local CPI(M) supporters have misled the villagers,” said Anubrata Mondal.
The agitators were demanding that the land was taken for industry and they wanted only industrial units there.
Birbhum, principally known for Tagore’s Santiniketan and Visva-Bharati university, is one of the backward districts of the state where agriculture is the chief economic activity. A couple of years ago, the district witnessed frequent clashes between BJP and Trinamool supporters.