| A protest in Nandigram. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Nandigram, Jan. 6: The state government is in no rush to take over land in Nandigram, but for the villagers nothing short of a cancellation of the acquisition plans will do.
“We’ll call the protest off only if we are assured land will not be acquired. This is our prime demand,” says Siddiquallah Chowdhury, general secretary of the Jamait Ulema-i Hind, which has formed the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee along with the SUCI, Trinamul Congress and the Congress.
The villagers cite economics. “Every six months, I sell two baskets of 10,000 betel leaves each at Tamluk and Mecheda. The misti pata (sweeter variety) fetches me around Rs 25,000 a basket, but prices in winter can go up to Rs 50,000,” says Dilip Kumar Manna of Usmanchak, who claims he makes around Rs 60,000 a year from his one-bigha plot. “How can I give up my land' I’d die first.”
Mujibur Rahman Khan of Garchakraberia brushes off the government’s claim that the bulk of the land, earmarked for a special economic zone to be developed by Indonesia’s Salim Group, is single-crop.
He says he grows two crops of paddy and pulses in addition to coconuts and betel nuts on his four bighas. “I sell 2,000 coconuts a year, supplying to Bihar, Orissa and North Bengal. I extract oil from rejected coconuts and sell it at Rs 120 a kilo. I make another Rs 5,000 a year selling fish from my one-bigha pond.”
Over 90,000 people, mostly marginal farmers and fishermen, in 60 villages are likely to be displaced once the earmarked land is acquired across 27 mouzas. The Pratirodh Committee says it may not be able to control the villagers for long and has warned of a flare-up if the government sends the police.
Local CPM leaders have mostly fled their homes in a belt where the Left controls seven of the 10 panchayats.
“Our local CPM pradhan, Samirun Bibi, fled with her husband on the day of the police firing (January 3). If she comes back, we’ll cut her to pieces,” seethes Abdul Latif Shah of Garchakraberia, who till the other day was a CPM supporter.
The government has said there is no plan for immediate acquisition, refrained from sending police to the villages and assured good compensation.
But Maulana Shahjahan Shah, who has a one-bigha pond, laughs off the government’s carrots. “In the four monsoon months, we harvest two kilos of prawns daily, which sells at Haldia for Rs 250 a kilo. No compensation will ever be enough.”