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Farmers rue six-year-old ‘mistake’

Singur, Nov. 29: Several “unwilling” farmers in Singur are ruing their “mistake” of not allowing the Tata Motors small car plant to come up and refusing compensation cheques for land acquired six years ago.

On the eve of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit, many farmers The Telegraph spoke to said they were “misled” and should have let the factory come up in the area.

Amader sarbanash, Didir poush maas (we are perishing but Didi is flourishing). Had the factory come up, we would have all got jobs. At least, we could have cleaned the floors there. We were misled,” said Sushanta Polen of Khaserbheri in Singur.

Mamata will tomorrow visit Singur for the second time since becoming chief minister for an administrative meeting at the block development office. Yesterday, new minister of state for agriculture Becharam Manna was heckled outside the office for the “false” promises the government had made to residents.

Polen was among the unwilling farmers who had gone to the BDO’s office yesterday to collect coupons for subsidised rice that Mamata had announced in May.

Sab phaltu kaaj hochchhe (all that is going on is useless). She had promised she would return our land within 24 hours of coming to power. We are tired of these false promises,” Polen said.

He had not accepted the compensation package for his 3.5 bighas six years ago. Today, Polen is ready to give away his land.

“All I want is Rs 20 lakh a bigha,” he said. The villagers were then offered Rs 2.8 lakh a bigha for single-crop land and Rs 3.6 lakh a bigha for multi-crop plots.

Polen’s neighbour Kaushik Ghosh doubted if they would ever get the compensation. “We have lost our land. That is for sure,” Ghosh said. “Court cases continue endlessly. But the main question before us now is whether we can still get our compensation.”

Ghosh, once the owner of a four-bigha plot that was acquired for the Nano plant, said he felt “trapped”.

“Who is going to listen to us now if we want our cheques? Who do we go to? It would have been better had we accepted the cheque at that time,” he said.

Gopalnagar, Khaserbheri, Bajemelia and Beraberi are home to most of the 3,746 “unwilling farmers” who had supported Mamata during her 2006 movement that drove out Tata Motors and had then voted her to power.

Today, the villagers are not just apprehensive about their future but also “disgusted” with the delay in receiving the monthly Rs 2,000 dole and subsidised rice at Rs 2 a kg.

“Yesterday, we got the coupons for the subsidised rice. They (officials at the Singur block office) have not told us when it would be available. This is disgusting,” said Shibram Dhawa, a resident of Gopalnagar.

Meera Panja of Panjapara in Gopalnagar, who had also collected her subsidised rice coupon yesterday, said the amount they get is “paltry”.

“Every month we are supposed to get 16kg of rice. Is it enough for a family of five? Unlike city residents, we need to eat rice at least thrice a day. We don’t have money to buy vegetables,” she said. “We got the rice four months ago. After that we have not heard anything,” she added.

Meera, who claimed she had gone to jail during the land movement days with Becharam Manna, will stay away from Singur tomorrow.

“It took 35 years for the CPM to go, the Trinamul Congress will go in five years. What is the point in going to Singur? Had I been allowed to go near her, I would have said these words. Didi sat hoye chor pushchhe (Didi is honest, but allowing thieves under her),” she said.

Dudh Kumar Dhara, the Trinamul’s Beraberi gram panchayat pradhan, said three months’ quota of subsidised rice had been given at one go to the unwilling farmers in July.

“The problem is that they exhausted it in a couple of weeks and are now claiming they are not getting any rice,” Dhara said.

Beraberi villagers also complained they had received their monthly allowance only once, in July.

Dhara said: “The money to pay the allowance till September has been released and the process of distribution has just started.”

Mamata, too, admitted the delay in releasing the monthly allowance. “The allowance got delayed by two months as the district magistrate fell ill. I have to send a new district magistrate there. He needs some time to get to know his district. But the due amount will be sent,” the chief minister said.