The Good Earth has become the key ingredient in the bubbling political pot of Bengal.
Mati Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s weapon of choice in Singur and Rajarhat — is now being wielded against her, allegedly by the Left. And the targets are Mamata’s developmental programmes, in her capacity as the Railway minister.
Around 190 kms from Kolkata, the inhabitants of Uttar Gopinathpur and Darpashila villages in Birbhum are resisting forcible land acquisition for a railway project.
Similar trends of villagers flexing their muscles on proposed railway projects are evident at several other spots (see box). In Birbhum, the proposed 33.98 kms railway track between Prantik and Suri stations — with an estimated cost of Rs. 149.55 crore — was sanctioned when Lalu Prasad Yadav was the railway minister.
The track diversion will begin from Darpashila village, around 1.5 km from Prantik station. And the trouble began there in June, when surveyors of Eastern Railway had gone to measure the land allotted for the proposed track.
“One fine morning, we found some people measuring our land and building pillars on them,” said Saroj Sarkar, a resident of Darpashila village. “Let alone prior discussion, we were not even informed.”
Sarkar’s family of six will have to give up 10 of their 15 bighas of land for the track, which will diagonally cut through the farmlands.
“We don’t mind as the land will be used for development,” said Sukumar Ghosh, a resident of Uttar Gopinathpur village. “But we do want adequate compensation and if possible, a railway job for one member of each of the families affected.”
Those who fear the worst are the share croppers and landless farmers, comprising about 40 per cent villagers of Darpashila and the next village Uttar Gopinathpur ¿ the two villages will have nearly 7 kms of tracks running through them. These families do not have holdings of their own and will not get any compensation.
“Ours is a multi-crop land,” aid Babu Khan, a landless farmer of Darpashila. “I have no official papers and have no idea how I will feed my family once the land goes. Land will feed us forever, while compensation money lasts only a few days. We need a job.”
In July, the landowners, sharecroppers and landless farmers of the two villages sent a petition to the Sub-Divisional Officer and the State Level Resource Organiser. They had put forward three questions: whether any acquisition was going on, which authority was executing the acquisition and whether they will get any compensation.
“We had no information and I forwarded their petition to the District Magistrate and the Block Development Officer,” said Ashok Das, Sub-Divisional Officer of Bolpur. “But one thing must be noted. No official process of acquisition has started as no acquisition notice has been issued so far.”
Though supporters of all political parties are involved in the agitation, the RSP, which has a strong base in the area, is taking the lead.
“Arrangements should have been made for a discussion with the farmers regarding the package,” said Nikhil Ghosh, District Secretary of RSP. “We resisted the survey because no such effort was being made.” Since then, no railway official has not visited the spot. If they try to start work again, the party promises a bigger movement, he said.
“Ideologically we are with the project,” conceded Bolpur legislator and RSP member Tapan Hore. “It will smoothen communication to a great extent. But we have to be sure about the package. Any decision should come through a proper discussion.” Railway officials say they have adequate maps and resources to continue the survey without visiting the spot and it is possible that the acquisition notices will come soon.
Trinamool leaders, however, rubbished the claim that many of the protestors are supporters of their party.
“This is nothing but a desperate attempt by the CPM to gain political mileage,” said Anubrata Mondal, district president of Trinamool Congress. “Most of the land required is government property and can be used for a public purpose like this. The people are with us. Uprooting pillars in the middle of the night with the help of outsiders will not help anyone.”