Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ranihati: Another special exploitation zone in the making

The West Bengal government plans to establish a special economic zone (SEZ) in the Ranihati area of Howrah district. Hindustan Foundries, belonging to the Hyderabad-based Ramoji International corporation is going to be the developer of this SEZ. The government plans to bring the small foundries located in the Dasnagar-Tikiapara area of Howrah into this “foundry park”. Recently, the union government has also given its go-ahead. As a result, around 1000 acres of agricultural land is being acquired for setting up this SEZ, a major part of which is fertile land bearing two crops per year. Various machinations of acquiring the land from the farmers are going on. Reportedly, already 50% of the land has already changed hands from the farmers.

The central government has been flip-flopping about the mechanism to be followed to acquire lands for SEZs. After the violence in Nandigram, the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) decided that companies setting up SEZs had to acquire land on their own directly from the farmers. Later, it decided that in order to get large tracts of contiguous land, the state governments can acquire land under “special” circumstances. With this confusion going on, land sharks are on a land grabbing spree at the sites of proposed SEZs. In the Ranihati area, the local people say that numerous land sharks and middlemen have jumped into the fray, which includes members of all political parties from the left to the right, who are out to make a profit from increasing land prices. The members of the ruling CPI(M) have been threatening the farmers with the example of Singur where a strong peasant movement has been unable to prevent the forcible acquisition of land for setting up the small car factory of the Tatas. There is a rudimentary save agricultural land committee in Ranihati, but it has not yet been successful in mobilizing the peasants on a large scale against land acquisition. However, there is considerable opposition to land acquisition in the area, mostly by small farmers who are dependent on the land for their livelihood. Although the government had organized a land acquisition camp, the farmers had not attended it. On the other hand, many absentee landlords, or landowners who feel that they are not getting the proper share of the crop from the sharecroppers or bargadars, think that it is profitable to sell off the land. The situation is similar to Singur. However, because of the prevailing confusion, misinformation and the participation of local members of all political parties in the land grab process, the farmers are not yet organized into a strong movement to oppose the acquisition of land for setting up the SEZ. They are not even aware of the polluting potential and the environmental impact of the foundry industry. Ranihati is an SEZ silently in the making, dispossessing peasants of their lands and livelihoods.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mob justice for CPM leaders

Durgapur, Sept. 16: Villagers faced with a food shortage today stormed a CPM nuclear-deal protest and beat up leaders, saying they wanted rice and not mumbo-jumbo on a subject they didn’t understand.

A mob of about 1,000 from the Bankura village — a CPM stronghold — then fought police with bombs and stones, prompting firing by the force that injured a schoolboy of 16 and a 23-year-old man.

The violence, coming at a time snap polls look a possibility, may confirm the Bengal CPM’s deepest fears. The state unit, which has to fight elections, favours caution while taking a decision on toppling the UPA government over the nuclear deal in contrast to the party’s central leaders, who have never contested polls.

A dozen villagers from Radhamohanpur, 250km from Calcutta, had come to the “anti-imperialism” meeting around 10am to complain to the CPM leaders against hoarding by ration-shop owners.

They erupted when panchayat chief Pabitra Mondal — who was on the dais trying to convince a crowd of 200 daily wagers about the dangers of the 123 Agreement — tried to shoo them away.

One man jumped on the dais, snatched the microphone and began abusing the assembled CPM leaders. “We’ll teach you a lesson. You can’t give us rice and wheat, instead you talk mumbo-jumbo. We don’t understand the nuclear deal, give us food,” he screamed. “Maar shalader maar (beat them up).”

The words will worry state CPM secretary Biman Bose, who has admitted that the anti-nuclear deal line lacks the force of bread-and-butter issues and will be difficult to sell to an electorate. This afternoon, he said he hadn’t heard about the incident but would find out what happened.

The news, however, spread fast across Bankura and violent protests against ration dealers were reported from elsewhere in the district, too.

In Radhamohanpur, news of the clash at the meeting drew men and women out of their homes, armed with sticks, knives, burning torches and even brooms. The dais, party banners and festoons were soon in flames.

“I had never seen a mob so angry. They dragged me from the dais and beat me. I ran to the panchayat office but they dragged me and four others out and beat us,” Mondal said.

The police were driven out as soon as they arrived. A bigger team, together with the Rapid Action Force, later caned the mob and rescued the CPM leaders. The police said the villagers regrouped and hurled bombs and stones, injuring an officer and four others.

“We were forced to fire three rounds,” said Bishnupur subdivisional police officer Dyutiman Bhattacharjee. The villagers claimed the police fired at least 20 rounds.

A bullet pierced the left hand of Sudhamoy Kandal and entered his stomach. Another hit schoolboy Tapas Pal.

Nine other villagers, injured in the baton-charge, are in hospital. Ten have been held.

Arjun Mondal, 30, a farmer, said: “We didn’t get rice or wheat from the ration shops for nearly a year. The dealers sell in the black market with CPM backing.”

Although Sonamukhi, the area in which Radhamohanpur falls, is a known CPM stronghold, local party officials blamed the Trinamul Congress, BJP and Maoists for the violence. Trinamul leaders denied the charge.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Latest right wing assault on academia

Jammu varsity prof loses headship over survey
Prabhjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Jammu, September 4
A professor of Jammu University is in trouble for conducting a survey on the Jammu and Kashmir issue, following a complaint by a political outfit which finds the scholar "anti-national". Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Jammu University, Rekha Chowdhary, was yesterday removed from the headship on the charge of misusing her powers.

The university had received a complaint from the local unit of the Shiv Sena for action against those who had conducted the survey, vice-chancellor Amitabh Mattoo said while talking to The Tribune on the issue.

The survey "does not report the feelings of nationalist and patriotic people of Jammu". And this grudge of the Shiv Sena was mentioned in a letter, which was issued to Chowdhary by a three-member inquiry committee, constituted by the V-C, for her explanation on her "undesirable activities". She had also been asked to comment on an allegation that she was "anti-national".

Before she could reply, she was yesterday sacked from the post "in the interest of the university's administration".

"The Shiv Sena barged into my office and sought an action," Mattoo said. He said though he had not seen the raw copy of the survey report, he came to know the survey projections from news reports.

The currents in the university ran high last week following the release of the survey, which was conducted jointly by two media organisations with the help of the Political Science departments of Kashmir University and Jammu University. It said, "The valley wants azadi, but the rest of India and Pakistan does not share the sentiment".

As per the survey, 95 per cent of residents of Jammu believed that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir should be with India, while the figure on this query stood at 7 per cent in Srinagar. Significantly, Chowdhary had been assigned the task of surveying Jammu only.
Nearly 87 per cent of the residents of Srinagar responded in the affirmative to a query whether Kashmir should be an independent country, while only 3 per cent in Jammu agreed with this viewpoint.

The committee constituted by the V-C to probe into the role of the university in the survey and take "disciplinary action" against Chowdhary, also raised its reservations on senior Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq's interview conducted by her way back in 2004. The matter was published in 'Reflections', a UGC-sponsored newsletter of the university.

Sources close to the V-C said that Chowdhary was removed following her "open letter to the vice-chancellor" in which she accused him of several irregularities both at the academic administrative levels.