People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 18, 2007
Facts About The “Fact-Finding Team”
WE have seen the ‘Interim report of the Citizens Committee on Singur and Nandigram’ released on January 29, 2007 – the report of the fact-finding team which visited these two areas between January 26 and 28, 2007. We feel that it is incumbent on us to clarify the actual position.
The fact-finding team has explained its methodology and the number of people they have interacted with in order to draw the conclusions that they have made. The report claims that the team has also interacted with the CPI(M) district leadership including the two Lok Sabha members – Laxman Seth and Prashanta Pradhan. However, the unanimous ‘impressions’ do not contain any facts which have been provided by the CPI(M) leaders.
The facts available with us are contrary to the claims made in the report. To start with, the first incident of January 3. The report claims that when the gram panchayat pradhan could not confirm about the notice reportedly issued by the Haldia Development Authority, they had “On being told by the pradhan that no information had come, demonstrated peacefully and left.”
Actually, the fact is otherwise. East Midnapur was poised to be declared as “Nirmal” district, for excellent achievements in sanitation. A central team was scheduled to visit Nandigram on January 13 and 14 for this purpose. In fact, the central team has already visited other areas of the district and watched the noteworthy success in this regard. On January 3, the preparatory meeting for the visit was taking place in Kalicharanpur gram panchayat office. Some activists of Trinamool Congress gathered there at around 11.30 in the morning. They demanded that the land acquisition notice served by Haldia Development Authority had to be scrapped and the panchayat had to declare that there would be no such acquisition. Samerun Bibi, the panchayat pradhan, refused to heed their demand. They were violent and abusive. They ransacked the panchayat office. The panchayat secretary was injured in their attack. The mob also pelted stones at the health sub-centre. Then only the panchayat pradhan informed the Nandigram police station.
The problem with the construct of the fact finding team’s report is that it does not answer the question as to who ransacked the panchayat office. Who injured the panchayat secretary? Who pelted the health sub-centre? These are incidences which can be factually substantiated.
From the report itself, it is clear that the entire incident was the outcome of rumours. The report states, “They had heard about 38 mouzas would be engrossed within the land earmarked for the SEZ under the Salim Group”. For any credible ‘fact finding’, it is necessary to ascertain the source of this information. The report does not care to take that trouble. The entire sequence of violence on the police is explained in the following words of ‘eye witnesses’- “…..at Bhuta Mor, a police jeep drove off course and hit a lamp post while trying to escape. The jeep got completely burnt through the ensuing electric short circuit, a policeman fell out into a pond and another tripped on the road and fell. The villagers rescued them and, after a light beating, sent them back.
They had left behind a rifle which was subsequently sent back to the thana”. If these absurdities are facts, what is fiction?
Similarly, the report does not care to go into the incidents of January 4 and 5, because on the 4th and 5th, virtually every link road and bridge between Nandigram and Khejuri were destroyed and a 25 KV electric sub-station was burnt. An armed gang with fire arms attacked and burnt down the CPI(M) local committee office in Rajaram chowk. TMC cadres and other forces had threatened CPI(M) leaders and sympathisers. These threats were followed up by looting many houses of CPI(M) sympathisers, looting them and forcing the CPI(M) activists to leave the villages. The report, in an approving tone, endorses the statement condemning the CPI(M) office as ‘a house of sin’. At no point in time, the report of the fact finding team ventures to ask the concerned villagers that whether, at any point in time, based on their apprehensions they had tried to find out the actual specifics of the acquisition plan of the government. The report also goes on to record the admissions of killing Shankar Samanta. The report takes on face value that the killing of Samanta was justified on account of their explanation that “they live under daily intimidation from CPM cadres, expecting massive retaliation”. The linkage of Samanta’s killing to an attack from his house is completely misplaced because Seikh Salim was a resident of South Kendemari, about 12 kilometers away from the spot. There is absolutely no doubt about the violence suffered by CPI(M) members and activists, which include looting of 153 houses, the burning down of shops and houses of Lakhman Mandal, Sonachura panchayat pradhan, Samerun Bibi, Kalicharanpur panchayat pradhan, Arjun Maity, Dr Pratap Paul, Rabiul, Annapurna Das – all CPI(M) workers. Among those evicted from the villages are two district committee members of CPI(M), two local committee secretaries, six zonal committee members, 16 local committee members and 56 Party members. 219 families are staying in relief camp or relatives’ houses now.
The bias of the fact-finding team is evident from the absence of facts regarding the attacks on the CPI(M) elected panchayat representatives and activists. Further, the team has conspicuously failed to note that despite the serious provocations and attacks on the police in Nandigram and Singur, there has not been a single instance of police firing – a common feature in other states in similar situations.
The final conclusion of the report is, “We also feel that the fury was partly due to the total lack of transparency about the basic facts about land acquisition about which no government sources would inform them. They were not part of any discussion about matters that concerned their lives and livelihood.” This is not surprising. Because, the fact of the matter is that the notice of acquisition had not been issued, nor the drawing up of details of the land for the chemical hub had been initiated. The controversial notice of the Haldia Development Authority was not an acquisition notice as was pointed out by the Land Revenue Minister, Rezak Mollah, the very next day. Later on, the Kolkata High Court has also substantiated this. On the other hand, as against the admission of a section of the villagers about their indulgence in violence, the report of the fact finding committee has not cited any instances of retaliation by the CPI(M) or the police administration. It is apparent that the fact finding report sounds pretty similar to the claims made by the assorted anti-CPI(M) political forces and some of the most vitriolic reports published in a pathologically anti-CPI(M) Bengali daily. If that is fact finding, truth will be at a discount.
In so far as the Singur developments are concerned, the report of the ‘fact finding committee’ is even more bizarre. The report makes a complete travesty of truth when it claims that villagers came to know of land acquisition from newspapers. There have been a series of meetings within the panchayats and between people’s representatives and the administration. These are well-recorded. The violence in Singur started in a big way on September 25, when Mamta Banerjee raided the Singur block development office with her supporters. They stopped villagers from collecting cheques for the land that they had sold voluntarily. There have been a number of instances where a small group, who were opposing the acquisition at the instance of TMC, had been attacking and destroying, the crops and properties of those who had voluntarily sold their land.
The report makes a major issue of the imposition of section 144. But the fact finding committee does not find it important to establish when the section was invoked. Even after September 25 when the first major violence broke out, section 144 was not imposed. Section 144 was imposed only after December 2 when there were attacks on the police, as well as, a number of villagers who had voluntarily given up land. We hope that the fact finding team believes in demarcating between legitimate protest and violence. If there is violence against citizens, it is the responsibility of any constitutionally-elected state government to protect their life and property.
In fact, when one of the members of the fact finding team – Sumit Chakraborty, editor, Mainstream, had (during the demonstration in front of the CPI(M) office) raised the question of violence in Singur while presenting a memorandum, he had been asked about the specific details about the violence. He had been particularly asked as to how many people have been hospitalised as a result of the alleged police atrocity. He could not specify any single person being hospitalised; because no one had injury serious enough to merit hospitalisation.
Regarding the other claims of opposition to acquisition, the reference to owners of 360 acres being opposed, contrary facts have already been established. These lands are outside the project area. The fact finding committee also did not find it important to provide with any disclaimer to the state government’s list showing 12,000 consenting land owners amounting to almost 96 per cent of the total land which has been acquired. For any ‘independent fact finding’, this is the least requirement that had to be addressed. The report does not even have any pretensions on this score.
Regarding the Tapasi Malik incident, the report’s insinuations are even more outrageous. We are equally interested in knowing the cause for her death and the people who are responsible for it. The chief minister, on the slightest hint by the opposition that the credibility of the state CID is being questioned, agreed with the suggestion of a CBI inquiry with the promptitude that is in the highest democratic standards. The fact that the ‘independent fact finding team’ does not even find it worthwhile to mention this in their report only points to the premeditated nature of the report. Incidentally, it will not be out of place to remind the independent fact finding team about the incident where Mamta Banerjee and the TMC had earlier attributed the alleged rape of a Trinamool woman activist to the handiwork of CPI(M). The name of that alleged rape victim is Champala Sardar. Enquiries have established subsequently that she was not raped as was alleged by Ms. Banerjee. If “a group of concerned citizens with a Left orientation” chooses to lend credibility to the allegations of Trinamool Congress without awaiting the findings of the CBI inquiry, the facts speak for themselves!
Finally, on the conclusions of the report of the fact finding committee, it is obvious that they are politically-driven. The Left Front government of West Bengal has established the best record of land reforms in the country as a result of which 78 per cent of the total cultivable land in the state today is owned by small and marginal farmers. Just 1 per cent land remains fallow as against a national average of 17 per cent. Though the performance of agriculture in West Bengal is far ahead of the rest of the country, still it cannot escape the adverse effects of the overall anti-people policy orientation of the central government. In such a situation, for the further advance of the state economy, a more vigorous push towards industrialisation of the state has become an urgent necessity. That is why industrialisation was given the foremost priority in the electoral agenda of the assembly elections. With great transparency, the Left Front, in its manifesto had pointed out that given the nature of land use in the state, it will be necessary to convert some agricultural land for the establishment of industry. But this drive towards industrialisation will not be at the cost of the land reform programme and further efforts towards improving agriculture. So far as specific projects are concerned, the rehabilitation of the people whose livelihood will be affected as a result of such conversion is a critical issue. The state government had made it abundantly clear that no land will be acquired without adequate consultation and without ensuring an improved alternative livelihood security for the affected people. If the report of the fact finding committee finds it inconvenient to realise this, nobody can help them.