People's Democracy

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


No. 17

April 29, 2012

TMC’s Political Opportunism, Land Question

and the Emerging Agrarian Crisis in Bengal


Archana Prasad


THE West Bengal assembly amended the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955 on April 2, 2012. The amendment made changes to Section 14Y of the Act by stating that entrepreneurs or persons interested in setting up industrial hubs can hold land above the land ceiling limit if they get prior written permission from a ministerial committee headed by the chief minister. The legislation, which was opposed by the Left, is a decisive blow to the land reforms carried out by the previous Left Front governments since 1978. It is well known that successful land reforms formed the basis of the changing land relations and social basis of the Left parties and movements. They also formed the fulcrum of the agricultural growth in the region and also empowered the dalit and other landless peasantry of the region.


The move to give concessions to corporate capital by making fundamental changes in the Land Reforms Act is one of a series of measures that are aimed at setting up the basis for the penetration of corporate capital in the state. It also unmasks the true face of the TMC government and shows that the ‘maa mati manush’ slogan is merely a legitimating device for pushing the interests of corporate capital.




The first indications of the reversal of land reforms came after the success of the TMC in the Lok Sabha elections with organised TMC supported gangs forcing tillers to destroy their crops and evict lands in areas like North and South 24 Parganas, Birbhum and Burdwan. But the real widespread evictions started immediately after the TMC came to power in May 2011. The Mamata Banerjee government termed the Left Front’s land reform policy as a “robbery of land” and set up a policy determination committee on land use. However, the period after the elections has also seen the demystification of the class alliances supporting the TMC’s use of political violence for evictions.


A survey by Punarnaba, a forum of left leaning intellectuals in 2011 in four districts described the process of these evictions to show the working of the jotdar, police and TMC combine. For example when the team of Punaraba visited the North 24 Parganas they found in one place that on the pretext of looking for illegal arms, armed gangs recruited by TMC and with active support of the jotdars started infiltrating into the area helped by the local police force. On July 3, 2011, they entered the village of Amta-Khantra in search of arms and when nothing was found they demanded that search should be made in Gazitola. The next day they came back with a huge police force as well as RAF; the attacking gangs were themselves armed with bombs, swords and firearms and they were hiding behind the police forces. The peasants being unprepared and unarmed could not resist them and although no hidden arms could be discovered, they set fire to whatever property they could find. This time the police were not just silent spectators, but led the campaign in evicting the peasants. 


These instances were not unique to the field area visited by the team but were replicated in many districts. In South 24 Parganas even adivasi tillers were not spared. And in regions where the Kisan Sabha organised the tillers to defend their lands, the TMC activists indulged in political violence to spread an atmosphere of terror, drive CPI(M) activists out and get the lands vacated. Thus an attempt to occupy and control the land of the tiller by the TMC workers is an important part of the larger picture to get lands vacated and use them for industrialisation. This is especially true in the light of the TMCs own stand on land acquisition which states that corporate houses should acquire land from farmers without government intervention. Such a stand is favourable towards powerful farmers and land mafias which the TMC seems to be building up through its political muscle power and state machinery.




Another aspect linked to the need to provide land to corporate investors is the failure of agriculture. Linked to land reforms, one of the main achievements of the Left Front government was on the agricultural front especially with respect to the protection of the farmers markets and provisioning of minimum support price. But in the last few months farmer’s suicides have rapidly increased in Bengal. This appears to be a relatively new phenomenon and is directly linked to the rising cost of agricultural production and the withdrawal of government support to agriculture in the state.


A survey by Punarnaba in February 2012 showed that though problems of land fragmentation and decline in cultivation were not new, they were especially accentuated by the actions of the new state government. This was evident in the fact that 2.8 lakh hectares of land have been left uncultivated by farmers in the state in 2011-12. While the target had been to cover 14 lakh hectares, only 11.2 lakh hectares have been covered. This is more than 1 lakh hectares less than the coverage in 2010-11, which had been a drought year.


Of the twelve instances of farmer’s suicides investigated by the Punarnaba team, there were instances where two families had left agriculture and become migrant labourers and in one instance the family sold off their land for a very low price. But a general trend in all cases was the fact that agriculture had become unviable because of the rising cost of production. This was particularly the case last year because the state government had withdrawn subsidies to fertilizers leading to an average increase in prices from Rs 550 per bag to Rs 1150 per bag.  Though the withdrawal of subsidies is a policy of the central government, the state government appears to have done little to check the black marketeering in fertilizers.


One of the most important factors leading to indebtedness and suicides is the lack of a fair minimum support price and the role of the state government in ensuring that. In almost all cases of suicides investigated by Punarnaba, the farmers reported a sharp fall in the minimum support price and the increasing cost of marketing especially since the state government declared that the farmers should sell directly to mill owners. While the state government had declared in October 2011 that it would procure 11 lakh tonnes of paddy, it had only procured 1.47 lakh tonnes by March 2012 as compared to the Left Front government’s procurement of 5.22 lakh tonnes in the previous year. This increasing withdrawal of the state government from its responsibility towards the farmers will only further intensify the agrarian crisis that has fuelled the casual labour market in the rest of the country. A burgeoning agrarian crisis will not only induce distress sales but also force farmers to sell their lands. Therefore it is no surprise that the TMC government’s amendment to the land reform law has not specified that multi cropped land will not be available for land acquisition for industrialisation.


Seen together with the attempts to evict tillers, the failure of the state government to address the concerns of the farmers seems to be designed to free up land for corporate acquisitions. The amendment to the West Bengal Land Reforms Act is only a culmination of one stage of this process. This shows that the TMC campaigns on Singur and Nandigram were nothing but political opportunism, and the slogan of ‘maa mati manush’ served as a legitimating force of the alliance of forces wanting to reverse land reforms. Therefore there is an urgent need for the Left to organise agricultural workers and peasants to defend land reforms.


(Malini Bhattacharya and the Punarnaba team are gratefully acknowledged for providing the results of their surveys for this article – Archana Prasad)