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

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - HINDUSTANTIMES HTNATION - Snigdhendu Bhat­tacharya

SINGUR: 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 250 acres of the re­claimed land, HT 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, mon­soon washed away most of the top soil, bar­ing the re­mains of a con­crete struc­ture sev­eral feet be­low, Santra said. Other farm­ers 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, 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 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 wreaked 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 au­thor­i­ties about the need to “re­de­velop parts of land”. When asked why bulk of the plot had not been cul­ti­vated, Ma­jum­dar said, “There could be other rea­sons.”

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 as it will raise ques­tions on why were all so keen to get their land back if they were switch­ing pro­fes­sions,” said a 57-year-old res­i­dent of Gopal­na­gar Ghosh­para, whose sons now work in Howrah. 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 ₹2,000 will wind down. The dole was started by the Banerjee govern­ment in 2011 for farm­ers who re­fused the com­pen­sa­tion in 2006.


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.

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