Land sold, farmers face empty purses

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By SIMI KAMBOJ in Haldia
  • Published 13.01.07

Haldia, Jan. 13: Struggling to make ends meet, Nagen Das says stealing is the only option he is left with.

Ekhon churi kora chhara kono upaye nei,” sobbed the 50-year-old.

Eleven years ago, Das was a happy man when he gave away his five-decimel plot (around 4 kathas) for the Mitsubishi Chemicals Corporation factory on the Haldia riverside in East Midnapore district.

The farmer had then thought the Rs 13,000 compensation handed to him would take care of his future.

But the rising prices and gradually emptying purses have robbed Das and his fellow farmers of their hope.

From his compensation, Das had paid Rs 2,000 to a local CPM leader for a job in the Mitsubishi factory. “I have a Rs 4,000-a-month contractual job, but it’s not enough to make ends meet. No one understands the pain of a displaced farmer,” said Das, who is the sole breadwinner of a five-member family.

Gopal Chandra Kar had given more land for the project — five acres in the Bhuniyan Roychak mouza — and got a fatter packet of Rs 6 lakh in 1997.

Eight years on, he faces the threat of his kitchen fire dying. Kar has used up most of his money to build a house and get his daughters married. He also took a loan to buy a lorry, but couldn’t pay the EMIs. Now in debt, Kar works as a daily labourer earning Rs 60. But he can find work only 10 days in a month.

Aath bochhore aami kangaal hoye gelum (In eight years, I’ve become penniless). As a farmer, I never bought anything other than oil and spices. Fish, rice, vegetables and milk — I produced everything I needed. Now, I have to pay even for water,” he said, pointing to a tube-well outside his lower-income-group house in the Ramnagar Purba Raghunathchak rehabilitation colony.

“Before acquiring the land, the Haldia Development Authority chairman, Lakshman Seth, had promised jobs to one member of each family. We were also promised stalls in a market...,” Kar trailed off.

Over 250 families were displaced in the Bhuniyan Roychak mouza during land acquisition for the Mitsubishi factory. But only 32 people got jobs in the company.

Kenaram Bera, who gave up land for the Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd (HPL) project in Bardhanyaghata, 10 km away, also complains of the Left Front’s broken promises.

“In 1980, the then commerce and industry minister, Kanailal Bhattacharya, signed an agreement with our rehabilitation committee promising jobs to one member of every family. That promise was never kept,” he said.

In 1989, Bera and four others moved Calcutta High Court. The case is still pending.

Bera now teaches in a school, earning Rs 1,000 a month.

His younger brother Sitanath has a different perspective.

“Frankly, most of us are not qualified for those jobs. We only fit the sweeper, porter, helper and repairs category,” he said.

But, he added, “out of the 265 guards in the HPL factory, only seven have been recruited from displaced families. It’s impossible to get into the political and management quotas”.

A job did not come Sitanath’s way and he had no land to till. “My five-member family lives off the Rs 1.8 lakh I received in 1990. Now, I have only Rs 50,000 left,” he said.

Sadananda Giri, a local physician, however, said most of the farmers displaced by HPL had got alternative plots. “But 30 per cent sold them off to run their kitchens,” he added.

Biman meet

State CPM secretary Biman Bose will meet the party’s district secretariat members in Haldia tomorrow to discuss a strategy to counter the Opposition’s campaign against industrialisation.