People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 06, 2005

West Bengal: Rationale For Industrialisation

Benoy Konar


THE crocodile is shedding tears. Suddenly the print and audio visual media in West Bengal have become tremendous sympathizers of the peasantry. The Trinamool Congress, BJP and Congress too have started raising a hue and cry. The Trinamool Congress, the embodiment of lies, drama and cruelty, has raised a war-cry that it would resist industries, urbanization or roads in agricultural lands at any cost, even bloodshed.


This naturally brings back memories, the memories of two phases of the Tebhaga movement of 1946-51, the sacrifices of 84 lives in the first phase in the then united Bengal, the heroic martyrs of Bara Kamalapur, Dubirveri, Sandeshkhali, Kakdwip, the sacrifice of Ahalya Ma of Chandanpiri with her unborn child speared to death in the womb. The memories of the cruelty by the predecessors of today’s Congress and Trinamool can never be erased.


In 1967-70, the millions of poor peasants, agricultural workers, and share croppers in West Bengal awakened and created a social pressure enough to bring down the per head ceiling of 25 acres, to a per family ceiling. They unearthed not only vested lands, but also benami and hidden ceiling-excess lands; distributed lands by vacation through ‘the ploughshare’ injunctions of the courts. But for all this the peasants had to shed their blood. These very “peasant-sympathizers” then maddened with rage, had demanded the “chaos” be crushed. The then chief minister Ajoy Mukherjee even went to the extent of declaring his own government as “barbaric”, and staged a dharna in the streets. Later he dismantled his own ministry to let open the gates to a regime of authoritarianism. To these “peasant-sympathasisers” he was a hero. In 1970-1977 the communists were mercilessly killed in West Bengal for the crime of awakening peasants against feudalism, abetted by these very same forces.  One can remember the low innuendos regularly published against leaders like Jyoti Basu, Promode Dasgupta and Harekrishna Konar in Anandabazar Patrika. And once again we heard this kind of hue and cry when more peasants from relatively backward districts came to assert their land rights during first phase of the Left Front government, when in the Second Amendment to the Land Ceiling Act, ponds, home-stead lands, and gardens were included. We saw their furious reactions then also. 




Till 1994, West Bengal had faced a serious crisis in its drive for industrialisation due to the Centre’s discriminatory freight equalisation and licensing policy. We had to build democratic movements to fight for the Bakreswar Thermal Power Project; 12 years were similarly lost building the Haldia Petrochemicals. That time today’s “peasant-sympathasisers” were alleging that the Left Front had reduced West Bengal to a desert. Today the situation has changed to some extent.


Despite the imperialist-driven globalisation and the liberalisation policies of the Centre, some possibility of industrialization has been created in the state. In recent years investment to the tune of Rs 26,000 crore has come to the state. The potentiality for attracting new investments, creating opportunities for employment generation have been created. So, under the changed circumstances those forces have changed their tune to “no industries in agricultural lands”. Their compulsion is clear --- assembly elections are due in 2006. The agricultural workers and poor peasants are the main source of support of the Left Front. The leading role of the CPI(M) and the Left  against the ill effects of globalisation is now resulting in growth in support among the middle peasantry and in the urban areas also.  Hence, the anti- Left Front forces are out to weaken the support base of the Left in the villages by creating some kind of passion through confusion.


A part of the media, unable to oppose industrialisation, is trying to create the idea that leaders like chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya or industries minister Nirpuam Sen, have become, liberal’, giving up Marxist “dogma”. It is often said that they are in conflict with the Kisan front or the central leadership of the Party. This lie has its own clever aims. The intention is to propagate that the CPI(M) has abandoned the path of revolution and those who dream of socialism should now reject the Party and join the so-called “Maoists” who have actually  vulgarized  Mao.




They fail to understand that Marxism is the anti thesis of dogma and there can be no scope for dogma in Marxist understanding. On the contrary, Marxism is the science of motion of nature and human society. The practice of it is dependent on the objective conditions, taking into consideration the co-relation of different forces. On this basis Marx had concluded that with the development of capitalism, the enormous growth in productive forces would lead to all production having a social character, production relations will become a fetter of growth to further development of productive forces. On the other hand all production would be concentrated in a handful of big industrialists by eliminating small producers. The working class would then have to ‘expropriate the expropriators’ to reach socialism and advance to communism. To him, socialism was not the distribution of poverty but the distribution of affluence.


Marx was not a witness to modern imperialism. Following him, Lenin, analyzing imperialism, showed that the developed capitalist countries had been able to give a longer lease of life to capitalism by shifting the burden of crisis to the colonies. Therefore the task of the working class in these latter countries was to mobilise broad sections of the people to accomplish the task of national or bourgeois democratic revolution.


Some pseudo Marxists claimed that accomplishing the bourgeoisie democratic revolution was the task of the bourgeoisie while the task of achieving the socialist revolution was the task of the working class and therefore the working class had nothing to do with the bourgeois democratic revolution. Lenin attacked this thesis and showed that in underdeveloped countries the journey towards socialism would begin only after the accomplishment of the task of the bourgeoisie democratic revolution. If the bourgeois did not join the democratic revolution, it would be easier for the working class to establish its leadership in it which would help in the next stage of socialist revolution.


That is precisely what happened in Russia in 1917, Lenin then stated that though the November Revolution had been socialist revolution, the task of accomplishing the unfinished agendas of the bourgeois revolution (the development of the productive forces) could not be by-passed. It had to be completed, for which Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy.


In China, the New Democratic Revolution was, in essence, the democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class. In the CPI(M) Programme, we call it the People’s Democratic Revolution. The reality of life has proved that the subjective understanding of the vanguard alone cannot not establish socialism, the objective conditions must first be established. To dream of building socialism without sufficient development of productive forces to compete with capitalism is wishful thinking. Inequality cannot be abolished overnight and mechanically. This has to be done in consonance with the development of the productive forces. Marxists practise theory in reality and enrich theory by the real experiences of the practice. Those who dogmatically keep themselves in the same place irrespective of the concrete situation are no Marxists at all. There have been disasters in socialism even after enormous successes, and the Marxists have learnt lessons from the experience. China has also taken lessons. After completing the task of the democratic revolution, China has developed her productive forces intensively and is now going through various experiments for building socialism.




We have also taken lessons. Some portions of our Programme have been changed in view of the changed balance of forces in the world and imperialist-driven globalisation. In the Party Programme we have stated as the programme of the Peoples’ Democratic Front, that we will “take steps to eliminate Indian and foreign monopolies in different sectors of industry, finance, trade and services through suitable measures including State take-over of their assets.’’ But while speaking so about existing wealth, at the same time we have stated in the Para 6.6(iii): “Allow foreign direct investment in selected sectors for acquiring advanced technology and upgrading productive capacities. And in Para 6.5:India is a huge country with different levels of economic development and varying social, economic patterns. Hence the rapid growth of productive forces necessary for the development of the economy and the steady improvement of the people's living conditions will require that the people's democratic government play a decisive role through public ownership in the key sectors of the economy and the State performing a regulatory and guiding role in other sectors. The people's democratic economy will be a multi-structural one with various forms of ownership, with the public sector having a dominating position. In view of the big changes in the world economy, the country will firmly strive to strengthen its self-reliant basis while making use of advanced technology from abroad.”


This is the programme of the Peoples’ Democratic Revolution, West Bengal is not a sovereign state. The Left Front Government here has to work and strive to industrialise the state within the confines of the bourgeois-landlord state structure. Hence, much before the change in the Party Programme ,the industrial policy of the West Bengal government was announced under the chief ministership of Comrade Jyoti Basu in 1994.The Central Committee in its resolution about this policy stated:


“Unlike in 1985 when the struggle was against the discrimination of the Centre, with its power of licensing and regulations of industry against West Bengal, today with deregulation and delicensing it is upto the Left Front government to initiate steps to attract capital investment in West Bengal. This can be done only by allowing greater investment of private capital in various sectors. This is the basis on which the Left Front government has to adjust its policies in West Bengal to meet the new situation brought about by the Centre’s policy of liberalization.”


Therefore there is no question of debate within the Party or “rejection of dogma” by Comrades Buddhadev or Nirupam Sen et al. This is a considered and united decision of the Party to defend the interests of the people in the concrete national and international situation.




Let us now consider the question of land. In West Bengal cultivable land is lacking, one of the major reasons was partition. While eight per cent of the population of the country lives in West Bengal it covers only three per cent of the total land. The per capita cultivable land is only 0.16 acre. In West Bengal land reforms have been accomplished as far as possible within the existing structure. We cannot distribute land within the ceiling of the non-peasant rich, and cannot touch the non-peasant small landowners without compensating them. The old zamindari has been ended and our state is now in front rank in the rate of development of agriculture. But can this alone make West Bengal prosperous?


The old and traditional industries are continuously getting closed. The pressure on agriculture is growing. Should not we try for new industries? A country or a state cannot grow without industries. World-wide the index of how developed or prosperous a country is the proportionate number of the population dependent on agriculture. For example, in the USA, two to three per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture while it is five to six per cent in Britain. In our country, as is well known, more than 60 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture, and our per capita national income is less than 500 dollars.


At the time of independence, China was more backward than India, with a per capita income almost half that of ours. Today their per capita income is more than double that of India and they aim to double in five more years. This is only possible through industrialisation. There is no possibility of socialist industrialisation in West Bengal at the moment, and we are forced to undertake capitalist industrialisation. Capitalists will not obviously come forward to build socialism, but for their own profits. That means whatever the values produced by the workers, a part will be appropriated by the owners. But the workers would get nothing if there were no industry at all. Their labour power would perish. For the reproduction of labour power they have to spend to consume. Labour power is a commodity such that it can produce surplus value but it cannot be stored. This is the reason why the workers are forced to sell their labour at cheap price. Therefore capitalist industrialisation is better than having no industries at all.


We are emphasizing the character of capitalist exploitation and its inherent inability to proceed towards socialism, not in order to go back to the pre capitalist or pre British era. In the present situation our task is to hasten the development of capitalism in the interests of the workers, peasantry and broader sections of the people, and we are doing precisely that. The development of capitalism is the pre condition of its being overthrown and replaced by socialism.




Earlier, capital inflow in West Bengal was very restricted. Capitalists were reluctant to invest in the state and, out of class enmity, preferred an end to the Left Front government. But the Left Front government has had a long life and there is no sign it will end. Agriculture has recorded high growth, the market for industrial products has been created, skilled labour and knowledge workers are in good supply, the working class is politically conscious and disciplined, political and social stability has been established, ministers are non-corrupt. And the capitalists have now understood that socialism is not being built to invest in the state. Hence, capitalists are now coming to West Bengal.


In order to develop industrialisation, land is needed, communication system has to be developed, and new towns must be created. In a class based society class inequalities will exist. Industries will also come up in accordance with the demand and purchasing power of the different sections of the people. As far as land is concerned it has to be economical and as far as possible, use barren, infertile and single-crop lands for the purpose of industrialization. The areas given over for industries in Barjora, Bankura district is some hundred acres of barren and uneconomic land. The same is true in Purulia. In Guptamani in Jhargram 5000 acres of land has been selected for the the Jindal group for a steel plant, while they will buy three thousand acres themselves. The Tatas have been given infertile land in Kharagpur. In Haldia, some agricultural lands were taken alongwith barren land .There was an attempt then to rouse the peasants who are now enjoying the benefits of industrialisation. In Haldia, 10000 acres of land will be available after dredging the river. This land will be used for building chemical factories.


In Howrah, the rubber market, Foundry Park, Food Park, motor cycle factory, and the land for the township are being built on fallow land. In Dankuni besides the KMDA township, 900 acres of land allotted for industrialisation is fallow land. Similarly lands allotted in Durgapur, Asansol, Malda, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar for industrial parks are also barren land.


Recently the Salim Group of Indonesia has proposed a big project where they will invest a huge amount. In Uluberia, they will set up a motor cycle factory by investing Rs 2500 crore on 65 acres of land. They will also construct a four lane Highway from Barasat to Raichak and subsequently link it to Haldia by building a bridge over the Hooghly river. In addition, they will be investing around Rs 15000 to Rs 20000 crores in building an Industrial Park, a Bio-technology Park, Health City, a captive power station, township etc. They have to be given land avoiding multi crop lands and household land as far as possible. But no such project can be built completely avoiding good lands. Some good lands will inevitably have to be acquired to maintain contiguity. But the positive impact of the ensuing project will be much greater than the loss.




The question will be asked, what happens to the peasants when they lose their land?  Obviously their number will decrease. But do we want that a peasant should forever remain a peasant? Should we not try to decrease the number of our population dependent on agriculture? Is the life of a peasant really so attractive? Only 22 per cent of the national income comes from agriculture while more than 60 per cent of the population is dependent on this sector. Therefore there is a wide gap between per capita income in rural and urban areas. The forefathers of today’s industrial workers, service sector employees were peasants 150-175 years ago. Do we want to go back to those days? Moreover is it possible to keep the peasantry intact by mere wish? Not at all. We have implemented land reforms but have not yet started a journey towards socialism. Lenin had clearly said that land reforms do not bring socialism, but open up the path of capitalist development. According to him, capital not only ruins the peasantry, it also splits them up. The peasantry is no modern class, it is a pre-capitalist category. With the development of capitalism, it will certainly be divided into bourgeois farm owners and proletariat. This is happening in West Bengal villages too. Big farms as in Punjab and Haryana could not be built here because of the ceiling. But gradually land is being shifted to those who can invest capital. The small holdings are facing a crisis in the competition, and the small peasants are shifting to other professions leaving the land. The 2001 census reveals that agri-workers have increased by 18 lakhs since 1991. But this is misleading. Nearly 16 lakh share-croppers who were recorded as cultivators in 1991, have been recorded as agri-workers in 2001. The real increase is thus only two lakhs, whereas during the 1991-2001 period, employment in the non-agricultural sectors in rural areas, as those in services, small industries, unorganised industries, construction, transport increased from 40.52 lakhs to 73.55 lakhs. This is a forward movement, not a backward one.


It goes without saying that fertile land must be protected as far as possible in the interests of the state. Food security must be maintained as well as raw materials for industries. Fertile lands must not only be protected, increase in production must take place. But when land is sold for industrial development a second question arises: how much is the loss to land owners?


The price per acre of monocrop land is about Rs 1.20 lakhs. In some areas in districts like Bankura or Purulia the cost is less. But in irrigated multi-yielding areas the rate per acre is about Rs 3 to 3.60 lakhs. If a land owner sells an acre of even quality land and keeps the amount in the bank he will earn at least Rs. 21- 25,000 per year. Pursuing agriculture, the land owner can never earn this amount on the same area of land. If the peasant is poor and works himself without employing agricultural labour, he will get Rs 9 - 14,000 against Rs 12,000 as the wage for 200 working days. By negotiation, the price may be settled at higher than market price.


Therefore from the monetary angle, the peasant does not lose. Still land is immovable property. Money can be lost for many reasons, the land remains there. A passion’s attached to land lost for any reason. But industrialisation is necessary for the future. The peasants are not unreasonable, but alternative livelihood has to be considered for them who have no other means. After the industries come up there will be market areas. Roadside markets will also emerge, and the peasants can be accommodated in these market areas. As they lose their homestead land, then housing areas can be built for them. While developing the area, large areas of water bodies will be formed, many youth can engage collectively in pisciculture. Very poor people rendered homeless by the project, can be settled on the border of the developed area, where they can get job opportunity in the township in future. Priority in rehabilitation should be given to poor peasants who will lose their total land. The possessed land for a project should not be kept unused for long. It is harmful both for the peasants and society. It is advisable to   allow the peasants to cultivate the land till it is not used for other purposes.




A third question may be raised that the modern industries are technology-intensive and the scope for employment will be accordingly limited. It is true that with modern technology, workers are needed in lesser number. But however low it may be it is larger than that in agriculture.


The total amount of cultivated land in West Bengal is 1,35,00,000 acres with a cropping intensity of 180 per cent. That means mono cropping cultivation takes place on 2,43,00,000 acres of land. Surveys suggest that all the kinds of cultivation together result in creating a total of 154,86,00,000 work days in a year. This means the average work days per acre is 63.3, difference exist according to the crop pattern.


In the case of Boro, almost 80 days are needed. One must remember that our agriculture is still mainly based on labour, the productivity of which is low.


If we calculate lands where three crops are cultivated, the per acre work days will be 200, in 65 acre this adds up to 13,000. Full employment would mean 300 days’ of work in a year in which case only 44 people would get employment in a full year.


On the other hand in Uluberia, for example the proposed motor cycle factory, in 65 acres, of land will provide jobs to 2500 people. In addition many job opportunities will be created outside the factory.  Taking three acres of land with three crops, the working days would be 600, which means full employment for only two for the whole year. If a cold storage with two lakh quintal capacity is built there, at least 18 permanent employees will be needed. Further will be seasonal employments. The working opportunities during the construction of these industries are not added here.


In our state, the best lands are in Sadar and Kalna sub division of Burdwan and Arambagh subdivision of Hooghly. In these areas some hundreds of rice mills, cold storage, rice bran oil mills have come up. The peasants voluntarily surrendered these lands, and the rural areas have benefited by that. 




Questions are being asked: why townships? The expansion of urbanization is a natural phenomenon, responding to the needs of individuals as well as society. Urbanization took place even before the planned city in Rajarhat was conceived. The expansion was achieved by buying lands from the peasants, not in outer space. In fact in the case of non-planned urban expansion, more land is wasted. The problems of roads, sanitation, open spaces become acute. In a planned township, residential areas for many can be built leaving vast areas as open space. Let us assume that a concern will build a housing complex on 10 acres of land. If this was mono crop land, then there would have been employment for only two people. If it were multi crop land then six to seven persons would be employed. Now 10 acres is equal is 4.32 lakh sqare feet. Even if 30 per cent of this land were to be marked for housing, a total of 129,600 square feet of land would be available. If four storied apartments of 800 square feet were built for the middle income groups, 640 such flats would come up. More than 2,5000 people would be living there. A huge amount of labour would be needed for two to three years to build such housing. After the completion of the project, many people would get employment, as gate keepers, cleaners, pump mechanic and for other works such as electrical, maintenance, carpentery, plumbing, etc. Generally wages are higher for these jobs. A service oriented sector around the complex would also need people. Retail shops and vendors for vegetables would come up. Apart from these demand for domestic help workers would increase. These particular jobs are not attractive but 150 days of work as an agricultural labourer too is not at all attractive. Multi storied buildings create more job opportunities. Roads are the lifeline of an economy. Expansion of roads brings life to an economy, expanding industries and employment opportunities. Those who are opposing this industrialisation for narrow political gains will be discarded by the people.




Who will get jobs here? The people of West Bengal. Local people will get work in physical labour, trading and other construction related jobs. The youth from peasant families are now receiving education, some are skilled through vocational training. They will also get opportunities. Our experience in the areas where industries have already come up has proved this.


Even then we must be alert. We must be economical about agricultural land, particularly high yielding lands. Food security must be guarded. There must be a sustained effort to increase agricultural production. We build up peasant struggles to liberate agriculture from feudal and capitalist exploitation, for accomplishing the task of a democratic revolution in the journey towards socialism, where the peasantry is an ally of the working class. We do not engage in the peasant movement to keep peasants as peasants forever. To keep more than 60 per cent of the population permanently in backward, narrow, scattered agricultural production, does in no way help towards realizing socialism. In many states ruled by the Congress or NDA, a reversal of land reforms is taking place and thousands of hectares  of land are being given to Indian and foreign companies for farming. Political forces like Trinamool Congress support these measures while opposing building industries in West Bengal. Their hearts’ desire is: let industries develop in other states but not in West Bengal.


The peasants in West Bengal will firmly reject these forces.