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  • » 02/02/2007, 00.00


    More than 14,000 farmers expelled from their land to give way to a car plant

    The Communist-led government of West Bengal is using an 1894 colonial-era law to seize farmland. Many farmers have protested and demonstrations have turned into clashes with police. Tata Motors wants to manufacture the world's cheapest car.

    New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 14,000 farmers are being thrown off their land in Singur, just outside the West Bengal capital of Kolkata, to give way to a car plant. Many are protesting because they do not know where they will live but they are readying themselves to resist the state government and India’s largest company. Their fight is over nearly 1,000 acres of farmland, which have been fenced off; well-irrigated fields that yielded rice, mustard and potatoes located near the state’s best highway.

    Tata Motors, a unit of Indian conglomerate Tata Group, started work last week on a factory which promises to employ 10,000 people and produce the world's cheapest car, for less than 100,000 rupees (US,200).

    “This plant is special, one of a kind,” said Industries Secretary Sabyasachi Sen. But it is being built without public consultation. The government has in fact dusted off an 1894 colonial-era land law to achieve its goal.

    Protests by farmers have turned into violent clashes with police, and the controversy has made national headlines and become political.

    “We are not against industry, we need more of it,” said opposition leader Mamata Banerjee, vowing a showdown. “But they should use non-agricultural land.”

    For the government, the problem is that there is not much of that on the fertile plains of Bengal, especially not in such a prime location. Furthermore, the government claims that the Singur land is not particularly good, mostly supporting just one crop a year.

    Tell that to Haradhan Adak, a 62-year-old farmer looking out at a potato field. “This is the third crop this season and we will get two more,” he said.

    Many farmers took the cash. Others sold because they have been promised factory jobs, or because they saw no point in holding out, explained Fatima Begum.

    Farmers know however that the money will not last forever. “You have marriages, illnesses, the money will just drain away,” Anil Shantra said. “What do we do then?”

    What is more, “people have been intimidated by party workers,” Shantra explained. “They brought out a list of people who agreed to sell, but somebody else signed on my behalf.” Most people have been tilling this land for generations.

    In 2005-06, Tata Group revenues topped INR 968 billion, which is equal to US$ 21.9 billion, or about 2.8 per cent of India's GDP.

    On Wednesday, another Tata Group company, Tata Steel, announced it had become the world's fifth biggest steelmaker by swallowing the Anglo-Dutch Corus Group for US$ 12.2 billion.

    Tata Motors, which has a good reputation for corporate responsibility, promised to employ 10,000 people. It has already started job training scores of men but many farmers do not want to give up their way of life even it they do not really know how they can stop what is happening.

    They continue to protest in front of the plant’s construction site hoping they will not be forgotten. (PB)

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    See also

    07/03/2008 INDIA
    Farmers expelled from their land to give way to plant to build world’s cheapest car
    In West Bengal 400 hectares of farmland is expropriated for factory that will build the Nano car. Many farmers refuse to give up their land and homes but the government is going ahead anyway. Legal action and public protest are planned.

    18/06/2007 INDIA
    Economic boom should not be on the backs of the poorest of the poor
    In an interview with AsiaNews the executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Development explains how India’s economic boom is often taking place on the backs of the poor, who often lose the little they have to the benefit of big corporations. The Church fights for their rights. Gandhi’s example is remembered.

    08/01/2013 INDIA
    India's children lost in the black hole of prostitution and human trafficking
    With at least 11,228 children reported missing in 2011, West Bengal is the state with the worst record in the country. Because of widespread poverty, rural families often sell their children hoping they would have a better future. However, children usually disappear for good. An underage prostitute can earn up to 80,000 rupees (US$ 1,500) a month.

    18/04/2011 INDIA
    Left Front’s hold on West Bengal at risk in state elections
    The ruling leftwing administration is criticised for land expropriations and unemployment. State elections will be held in six phases with results announced on 13 May. Scheduled Caste and tribal voters will be crucial for the outcome. Both groups have reserved seats.

    16/01/2006 INDIA
    Church and orphanage torn down to make way for road construction
    The Christ Mission Ashram has been torn down to allow road construction to the airport. "We have not been offered any alternative site for relocation. Where do we go from here?" church leader asks.

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