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Land ghost haunts Trinamul

Durgapur, June 24: Farmers in a Durgapur village who had not accepted compensation for land acquired in 1964 and had apparently been promised by Trinamul before the Assembly elections last year that their grievances would be looked into have demanded return of their plots or compensation at the present market rate.

Between 1964 and 1967, around 92 acres had been acquired in Kaligunj village as part of Bidhan Roy’s industrialisation drive in and around Durgapur. The Congress government had then paid compensation of Rs 840 per acre, the then market rate.

The plot has now become part of a land bank that the Trinamul government has formed.

Fifty-two of the 369 farmers from whom land was acquired had refused to accept the compensation. They had pointed out that farmers in neighbouring Gopinathpur and Radhamadhabpur had been offered between Rs 3,600 and Rs 5,400 per acre.

In the subsequent years, only two units — a sewerage treatment plant and a solid waste management plant — came up on 15 acres, while the rest of the land remained unutilised.

While the sewerage treatment plant came up on eight acres in 1972, the solid waste management unit was built in 2010 on seven acres.

As the rest of the 77 acres remained unutilised, the local farmers continued cultivating paddy on it.

In the run-up to the Assembly elections, local Trinamul leaders came to the village and apparently told the farmers who had not accepted compensation that if the party came to power, it would ensure that they got back their land.

Examples of Singur, where the Trinamul led an anti-land acquisition movement, which later became one of the main reasons behind the party’s ascent to power, were given.

But after the change of guard at Writers’, Trinamul took control of the Asansol-Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA) and asked the farmers in July 2011 not to continue cultivation of the land.

Local Trinamul leaders, many of those who had assured the farmers earlier that their grievances would be addressed, told the farmers that the 77 acres had been included in the land bank the government was preparing for industry.

Last week, the farmers submitted a memorandum to the ADDA chairman and the Burdwan district magistrate demanding that the government either return the land or pay them compensation at the present market rate and a job. The landlosers also wrote to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and governor M.K. Narayanan.

After the Singur movement began in 2006, the farmers in Kaligunj also organised themselves under a save-farmland committee with the backing of Trinamul leaders. When the solid waste management plant came up in 2010, 15 local youths were given jobs there following sustained agitations by the committee.

ADDA chairman and Trinamul MLA Tapas Banerjee said today that the land could not be returned to the farmers. “The land was acquired 48 years ago and cannot be returned to the farmers because of technical and legal reasons. We will not make any fresh acquisitions but land already acquired cannot be returned. The compensation price also cannot be increased. I have explained this to the landlosers in Kaligunj,” he said.

The farmers accused the Trinamul leaders of “duplicity”. They said the leaders had given them “false assurances” for votes.

“Trinamul leaders who came to our village for campaigning had promised to look into our grievances if they come to power. They had said our land would be returned. But after the polls, the ADDA (which now owns the land) asked us to stop cultivation on the land, saying it was illegal. We had been cultivating the land for nearly five decades. The CPM administration did not stop us from doing so,” said Nimai Ghosh, 60, a retired state dairy employee whose 2.63-acre land had been acquired.

Anandagopal Sen, 46, who like Ghosh had not accepted compensation, said the farmers did not have such expectations from the Mamata Banerjee government. “The CPM never took any steps to address our grievances. We had expected much more from Mamata as she always says she sympathises with farmers. She had promised to return land to unwilling farmers in Singur before she came to power. But her party has turned its back on us like the CPM,” he said.

Sudhajit Mukherjee, a local Trinamul leader who had set up the save-farmland committee, has severed ties with the party. He alleged that a Trinamul faction was opposing the farmers’ movement since May last year.

“The faction, led by Trinamul youth wing leader Swadhin Ghosh, is preventing us from carrying on with our agitation. He brought a police force to the venue of a meeting we were holding in November in favour of our demands. He asked me to stop the meeting. When I refused, he assaulted me in front of the police,” Mukherjee alleged.

Ghosh denied the allegation.

Asked about the farmers’ memorandum, district magistrate .S. Meena said: “If there is any legal order from a court in favour of their demand, only then can we comply.”