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Was the Singur protest for nothing? Farmers still cold to Nano plot

Many farmers turned plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters and mechanics in the 10 years — the land was acquired in 2006 and returned in 2016 — they were away from their fields.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2018 23:36 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times, Singur
Singur,Nano plot,Nano
A farmer works in his field next to the closed Tata Motors factory in Singur. In November 2017, the Hooghly district magistrate issued a fresh notice, inviting farmers to work in the fields. Only 50 of the 630 applicants turned up till January 8.(HT File Photo)

More than a year after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee gave back to farmers the land on which Tata’s Nano car plant was built, a major chunk of the 997.11-acre plot remains uncultivated.

Cattle graze on large swathes as weeds run wild. Crops barely cover about 250 acres of the reclaimed land, Hindustan Times found during a recent visit to Singur. “My plot of land is unfit for farming,” said Amar Santra, a resident of Khaserbheri village that was the epicenter of the two-year-long land agitation that saw the Tata group abandon the plant in 2008. Last year, the monsoon washed away most of the topsoil, baring the remains of a concrete structure several feet below, Santra said. Other farmers, too, had similar complaints.

Most of the plot was fit for cultivation, Pradip Majumdar, the chief minister’s principal adviser on agriculture, countered.

Farming resumed on more than 500 acres within months of the buildings being razed, he said. “We have proven it beyond doubt that the land can still yield gold. If there still are some patches with construction remains, we’ll get things right,” Majumdar said.

Banerjee, who was at the forefront of the stir against land acquisition for the car plant, had in October 2016 sowed potato seeds during the handover in perhaps the first instance of an industrial land being reconverted to farm land in India.

But farming is yet to catch up.

Of the 56 mini-deep tubewells installed by the state government, only 20 are operational.

In November 2017, the Hooghly district magistrate issued a fresh notice, inviting farmers to work in the fields. Only 50 of the 630 applicants turned up till January 8. In Khaserbheri, fields are a favourite hunting ground for scrap-dealers, as iron rods jut out of the ground. In Bajemelia and Gopalnagar villages, acres are still submerged under the water after last year’s monsoon.

According to Beraberi panchayat chief Dipankar Ghosh, nearly a third of the land needed to be worked on. His views were echoed by KGD gram panchayat chief Tapan Bag. “Some of those who had sown potato, lentils and mustard during October-November 2016 also farmed the monsoon paddy in 2017. However, after monsoon wrecked havoc, many of them refrained from sowing the winter crop,” said Uttam Das, the agriculture coordinator of Gopalnagar gram panchayat.

Singur MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya said he had informed the authorities about the need to “redevelop parts of the land”. When asked why bulk of the plot had not been cultivated, Majumdar said, “There could be other reasons,” refusing to elaborate on them.

Some locals, though, had the answer. Many farmers turned plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters and mechanics in the 10 years — the land was acquired in 2006 and returned in 2016 — they were away from their fields.

People like Dipankar Das, who is now a carpenter, are earning a lot more. He would continue with both — farming in the morning and carpentry noon onwards — once his plot was ready, Das said.

“None will admit this because it will raise questions on why were all so keen to get their land back if they were switching professions anyway,” said a 57-year-old resident of Gopalnagar Ghoshpara, whose sons now work in a garment factory in Howrah. He didn’t wish to be identified, fearing a backlash.

Local politicians and a section of the administration are hopeful that more people will return to till the land when sowing season begins in March and the monthly “compensation” of Rs 2,000 will wind down. The dole was started by the Banerjee government in 2011 for farmers who refused the compensation in 2006.

First Published: Jan 30, 2018 23:35 IST