Singur: At least 10,000 farmers, Bargadars and agricultural workers launched a historic march towards Kolkata on Wednesday. The national highway lit up in the afternoon sun, as the farming community of Singur and south Bengal, holding aloft giant Red flags, briskly covered 10 km in just under three hours.
The gritty farmers and farm workers are participating in a historic ‘Singur Kisan March’, and will reach Kolkata tomorrow to mark the culmination of the ‘Singur to Raj Bhavan Abhijan’.
In Kolkata, they will be joined by more than 40,000 of their counterparts, who have been conducting similar campaigns throughout the day in other parts of the state. Rural communities of West Bengal, be they landholders or agriculture workers, have mobilized themselves to draw attention to the multiple crises triggered by the anti-farmer policies of the Central and state governments.
The ‘Singur to Raj Bhavan’ campaign is being jointly organized by the West Bengal units of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) and forms an important part of the all India ‘Kisan Mukti March’, that will end in New Delhi on November 30. The New Delhi farmer mobilization is being organized by the All India Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) an umbrella organization of nearly 180 unions.
On Wednesday, AIKS general secretary, Hannan Mollah, inaugurated the mega rally from Ratanpur, Singur, at 10 am, as thousands of people poured in from various districts of south Bengal. Addressing this large and enthusiastic gathering, Mollah said, “Relentless pursuit of neo-liberal policies, ever since the introduction of economic reforms, had already brought disaster to farmers, but the havoc wrought by Narendra Modi-led NDA is unprecedented in the entire history of independent India. The need of the hour is to make farmers and their problems an election issue, instead of getting diverted to religious controversies.”
As the march took off, many young people from Kolkata also joined the farmers, in order to express their support. Along their way to Dankuni in Howrah, they were cheered on by local people who came out of their homes in large numbers, waited by the highway and offered food and water. The mood was kept upbeat with vibrant music and slogans. Also, in a departure from the past, the rally was ‘broadcast’ almost live on social media as young participants, armed with smart-phones, clicked videos and photographs and disseminated those almost immediately. As in other parts of the country, in West Bengal too, the Singur Kisan March received considerable support from eminent poets, artists, theatre personalities, students and citizens from all walks of life.
Later, CPI(M) West Bengal State Secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra joined the second half of the rally, which finally halted upon reaching Dankuni 5:30 pm. At least 2,500 people then moved on to Bally in Howrah and will be accommodated in the homes of local residents for the night. Workers and members of AIKS and AIAWU have been working in close coordination to facilitate the journey of the farmers.
Singur: Epicentre of rural complexity
Singur was chosen as the starting point of the ‘Kisan march’ because of the sheer complexity of the problem it poses. Ten years after Tata Motors was forced to abandon its auto manufacturing complex, due to relentless protests by Trinamool Congress, which was then in opposition, the people of the area have been struggling with uncertainty and loss of livelihood. After coming to power in 2011, theTrinamooll Congress government made multiple contradictory announcements as to the fate of the 997 acres of acquired land and went in for litigation. On August 31, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that the entire land acquired by the West Bengal Government be returned to the land-holders in cultivable condition. Shockingly, even after more than two years, a minuscule 11 acres is being used for farming.
The landholders and youth of Singur are now in extreme distress, as farming is no longer viable in this area, which remains choc-a-bloc with concrete chunks, iron debris and reeds. Farmers say they no longer recognize their land and are also unsure if the plots have been demarcated correctly. Many of them have moved on to odd jobs and are in no position to invest lakhs of rupees to make the land viable again. With their land reduced to waste, the people of Singur, especially the young sons, now want the industry to be kickstarted. The situation is similar in other parts of West Bengal too, where land was painstakingly acquired for industry, during the Left Front government, but no effort has been made in the last seven years to attract investments.
Apart from this mega challenge of providing rural employment, farmers in West Bengal are also reeling under soaring input costs. They are now forced to sell paddy, jute, potato, and vegetables at throwaway prices as MSP remains a fickle promise of the state government. Farm suicides, which were unheard of under the Left Front government, has taken root in West Bengal. At least 187 farmers have been forced to commit suicide in the state, due to the financial crisis.
Most shockingly, in the last four years, 57,000 acres of farmland have been turned into a wasteland in West Bengal, even as the state government continues to take dubious decisions. Nearly 100 acres of fertile land in Haringhata, Nadia, was handed over to e-commerce giant Flipkart, when non-fertile land in Raghunathpur, Purulia, was available for the purpose. Moreover, the government is busy wasting public money organizing various festivals but fails to pay the crop insurance premium, on behalf of farmers. The Chief Minister’s trips to foreign countries, apparently to attract investment, has not yielded any result up till now. The farm sector in West Bengal is being crushed by the harsh policies of both the Centre and the State.
With such serious issues in hand, on Thursday, nearly 16,000 farmers and agricultural workers from East & West Midnapore and other districts will converge and all eyes will be on an estimated 37,000 people when they cross the iconic Howrah Bridge around half past noon and proceed towards Rani Rashmoni Road in central Kolkata. Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra, AIKS State Secretary Amal Halder, AIAWU State Secretary Amiya Patra, AIAWU State President Tushar Ghosh will address nearly 50,000 farmers and workers. AIKS State President Nripen Chowdhury will preside over the meeting.
Campaigners are drawing attention to the list of demands, which include:
1) Take initiative to set up industries on lands which were acquired by the State Government for industrialization including Singur
2) Work for all
3) Stop discrimination among Singur’s farmers, peasant and bargadars in providing Government welfare schemes
4) Implementation of the recommendation of the Swaminathan Commission. The State and Central government will have to buy crop at a rate of one and a half times the cost of production
5) All agricultural debt must be waived
6) Ensure 200 days of work and 350 rs /day wage in MNREGA welfare scheme
7) All poor people above 60 years must be given a minimum of Rs 6000/ month pension
8) Strict action must be taken against all corrupt public functionaries in the state and Centre
Content circulated by social media team of #SingurKisanMarch
28th November, 2018