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Farmer-the most endangered species

Writers buildings governs left front

Posted by Ramoo on January 20, 2007

Leader of one of the major constituents of the Left Front, Mr Debabrata Biswas is the general secretary of the All-India Forward Bloc, the party founded by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939. Holding the party post for the third consecutive term since 1997, sixty-one-year-old Mr Biswas entered politics as a student leader.
A Rajya Sabha member for the third term, Mr Biswas hails from Bagnam village, just 10 km from Singur, the Hooghly village where the West Bengal government had to use the police to control protests over land acquisition for the Tata small car project.
Singur received nationwide attention and brought Left Front unity under strain.
Many Left Front leaders, including Mr Biswas, complained that the confusion arose because of lack of transparency in the land acquisition process. In an interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN, the Forward Bloc leader comments on recent events.
Q: Are you happy with the manner in which the West Bengal government is acquiring land for industry and Special Economic Zones?
We are dissatisfied with the manner in which the West Bengal government is acquiring land for industrial units. The Left Front government is not merely an electoral adjustment. The Left Front government came to power after a long struggle and LF’s basic principle is that the government will be run by the LF committee and not Writers’ Buildings.
The government will run, take decisions and implement decisions in consultation with the people and mass organisations ~ those which are working in different areas. This formula was adopted when we formed the front. But nowadays, the LF government is not holding proper consultations on certain issues. The understanding was that the LF committee will run the government and not vice versa.
West Bengal is a unique state where land has been distributed among farmers after a long struggle. Ninety per cent of agricultural land belongs to marginal and small farmers. This is the only state where sharecroppers have the right not only to cultivate but also to have ownership. Generation after generation, their families have been enjoying the facility. When 90 per cent land is under small and marginal farmers and sharecroppers are in a big number, one must be careful that the rights of peasants are protected when land is acquired for industrial purposes.
Q: What is your view on acquiring farmland for industrial projects?
Our policy is, and we have proposed it, that the government should prepare a land-use map where land can be identified for different purposes.
Through satellites or some other modern device, you can prepare a land-use map. In every district, the government must set up land-use committees which should include elected members, farmers’ representatives and peasant organisations’ representatives. The committee should take the decision on changing the land’s character. If agricultural land needs to be converted for any other purpose, the committee would have to take the decision.
Agricultural land should not be handed over to industry. Non-irrigated agricultural land and fallow land should be identified for industry. There is a lot of fallow land in West Bengal. Since the time of BC Roy, many plots were acquired for industry but no industry came up. These should be diverted to industry. Then there is land of closed industrial units. There is no possibility of reviving them. These landowners can’t be allowed to use them for real estate. The government can acquire that land and hand it over for industrial use.
This is the broad, land-use policy our party has formulated; from time to time, we submit these proposals to the LF.
Q: The West Bengal chief minister is saying that the next generation of farmers want to take up jobs in industry and fertile farmland has to be acquired because almost 64 per cent of the state land is fertile and just one per cent fallow. Do you agree?
I beg to differ. In West Bengal, about 40 per cent land is non-irrigated. There are various types of lands available such as land acquired for industry and other purposes in Durgapur and Kalyani. That land can be used. And we have non-agricultural and infertile land in Purulia and Bankura. Nobody is opposing the agreement with Jindal because that land can’t be used for any other purpose. And industry is required. Without industry a country cannot move. Agriculture is the base but industrialisation is also needed. My point is, our point is, what type of industry do we want?
We want industries that can absorb unemployed youth. We don’t want jobless growth. We are investing huge capital but we are not getting proportionate employment. We must find industry which can absorb unemployed youth. For example, the jute industry is a big agro-based industry with more than 2.5 lakh workers and 40 lakh farmers are engaged in jute farming. So, a huge population is engaged in this agro-based industry.
We are not taking advantage of the industry due to lack of diversification and modernisation, though there is demand in the world market for environment-friendly jute. The world is rejecting synthetic material, and India has the right climate to compete. This type of industry should be kept in mind while setting up industry.
Q: On all these issues, how often are you consulted in the LF? How often does the LF meet to debate such issues?
That is the problem. The state LF committee meets when elections approach, when any issue arises, takes decisions and tries to implement them. The LF committee always says that the LF must go to the grassroots level. The committee should be the guiding force for all state government activities. If the tail wags the dog, incidents like Singur and Nandigram occur.
Q: Do you think the CPI-M follows different policies in Kolkata and Delhi?
This should not be. Naturally, the purpose of the LF government in such a state as West Bengal is to propagate and project an alternative model of governance and policy so that people of other states can say, yes, this is a different model. We are showing how decentralisation of power is viable. Every five years, elections are held ~ from panchayats to schools ~ and elected bodies function.
The Forward Bloc is in principle against SEZs. We don’t think SEZs are needed for industrialisation. We think this is nothing but a bribe for the capitalist. Why do they need these sort of concessions? They want land, tax holidays, all types of facilities beyond the Constitution. And why this sort of competition for corporate houses in different states? The West Bengal government should not get into this. The LF prepared a note on SEZs.
The SEZ Act was passed in 2005 but at that time, we did not understand its implications. Now we realise there is a need for discussion on amending this Act. The SEZ Act is the creation of a foreign country within the country, where no law of the country can be implemented. In West Bengal, we are opposing it.
In the manifesto that was adopted unanimously during the last Assembly election, when the Left Front came to power with more than two-thirds majority, four SEZs had been mentioned. The people gave their mandate. Despite that, we are trying to reopen the SEZ issue in Delhi and we want the LF manifesto to be reviewed after witnessing Nandigram and Singur.
Q: Some people suggest that the West Bengal government should go to the polls afresh or opt for a referendum on acquiring farm land for industry?
Assembly elections were held only six months back. That was a referendum on our agricultural and industrial policies. Already, we have met the requirement. There is no need for another referendum. But the LF must always be with the people and if any mistake is committed, it must be rectified after taking inputs from the people.
On Nandigram, I have said that LF chairman, Mr Biman Bose, must lead a team there and hear the people. For the last 30 years, we have been with the people. In agriculture or trade unions, lakhs of people are working with us. So, we should not be afraid of going to the people.
Q: Is the LF currently suffering a credibility gap with the people because of Singur and Nandigram?
Definitely. The way of functioning has confused the people. The government must be transparent, all the functions must be open to the people and the people must know what we want to do. This is a two-way communication: we must get information from the people and vice versa. It is a government by the people, of the people and for the people. Development is for the people. Why keep the people out of it?
Q: Are such policies trying to reverse the process of land reforms?
We have completed our first round of land reforms. Still, the work is unfinished. In the second Land Reform Act, we made some promises. No 1, land records should be updated. That is yet to be finished ~ one man, one account, that is the policy. You have some land in one district, some in another. But your account will be one. In one account all the land details will be given.
Then, we must set up a land bank. It is not just distribution of land but also raising productivity, and improving infrastructure among the farming community must be taken into account.
Q: Do you think the land reforms process has suffered due to Singur and Nandigram?
No, land has to be acquired for industry, but after proper rehabilitation and planning. The rehabilitation must be economic and social, not just paying the price of land. For prime land, the state government is paying a huge amount, prime price plus 40 per cent bonus, but that is not sufficient. We want proper rehabilitation for those who have no land but are involved in some other economic activity in the area. It is not just about agricultural labourers but grocers, small businessmen and so on. The topography will be changed when industry comes.
To involve the people of a locality in economic activity, planning is required so that their social status is not affected. We have suggested that all landowners must get a small share in the industry. Not only employment, they must be shareholders. If a person is losing land ownership, he must get ownership of industry. The landowner had income from his land, every year he got 10 months’ paddy or some crop and now he must get a dividend from the industry concerned. No industrialist in this country is setting up industry from his own capital, he is collecting funds from the market and banks. Workers are also getting their share. Why should the land-user not get a share?
Q: Will you seek a meeting of the LF, at the apex level in Delhi ,on these issues?
We have formulated a policy on SEZs. This policy should be implemented in all states. We want West Bengal to follow the four parties’ SEZ policy in letter and spirit. We have formulated the policy here. There is no need to review the West Bengal government’s work in Delhi because a LF committee functions there. All the constituents are in power there ~ the CPI-M, Forward Bloc, CPI and RSP. In Nandigram, the MLA belongs to the CPI and the MP is from the CPI-M.
Q: Are you satisfied with the Left’s SEZ document?
Oh, yes. We can discuss on the basis of this document.
Q: Have the recent clashes in Nandigram and the use of police against protesters given a bad name to the Left?
We are sorry and shocked over recent developments in West Bengal and some police actions. We condemn that. It is unfortunate. But we must learn from the experience.
Q: Do you think Singur and Nandigram will curtail the Left’s capacity to influence UPA’s policies?
No. I don’t think so. In Delhi, we are raising the disinvestment issue and other economic policies. We support the UPA government on the basis of the Common Minimum Programme and protest when it is flouted.
Q: What are your expectations from the Union Budget?
Before every session, the finance minister holds courtesy meetings with UPA-Left parties and trade unions. But the government formulates policies on its own. Mr P Chidambaram has time to meet CII and FICCI members, but no time to meet people’s representatives and the Left constituents before formulating the Budget.
We want 70 per cent of the people in the country to get a proper share in the Budget. Those living in the countryside are the country’s backbone. Last year, we witnessed farmers’ suicides. Farmers are losing ground, with mandays going down. There is a problem in the countryside. They don’t get their proper share. Attention should be given to them so that working conditions and infrastructure can be developed.
(The author is Editorial Consultant, The Statesman, New Delhi)

One Response to “Writers buildings governs left front”

  1. […] Indian Agrarian Crisis carries an interview with Mr. Debabrata Biswas, secretary of All-India Forward Bloc Singur received nationwide attention and brought Left Front unity under strain. Many Left Front leaders, including Mr Biswas, complained that the confusion arose because of lack of transparency in the land acquisition process. In an interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN, the Forward Bloc leader comments on recent events. Posted by Krish […]

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