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New Resistance, New Repression in Struggle Against Government Land Seizures in West Bengal

Posted to the IUF website 11-Jan-2007

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As popular resistance, including growing trade union involvement, continues to grow in the struggle against government land seizures in West Bengal, the Left Front state government has made one important tactical retreat under pressure while simultaneously stepping up repression.

Since May 2006, Agricultural workers and peasants in the West Bengal community of Singur have been resisting plans by the state's "Left Front" government to evict some 6,000 poor families from 420 hectares of farmland to make way for a small car factory to be built by the Tata Group, India's powerful multinational conglomerate. The IUF-affiliated PBKMS, which organizes rural workers in West Bengal, is supporting their struggle and has joined the residents in calling for international support to block the forcible seizure of land. The legal mechanism for these land seizures - the Land Acquisition Act - derives from colonial law and practice and permits the government to seize land without public debate or consultation with those living or working on it.

Following police violence against protestors in September which left one villager dead, the government imposed a ban on assembly in the area by invoking Section 144 of the criminal code, and has restricted travel in and out of Singur. Private security guards and police have protected the fenced off area designated for the Tata project.

Over the first weekend in December, police again used violence against protesting small farmers and agricultural workers, and arrested some 65 villagers. On December 4, police illegally detained PBKMS president Anuradah Talwar (and two other activists), releasing her only 3 days later - too late to attend the IUF's global agricultural workers' conference underway in Seville, Spain that week, at which she would have represented India.

The police clampdown continued in Singur, and on December 18 a 17-year old female villager was murdered, a death which residents attribute to the presence of heavily armed police and guards of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.

Trade union representatives from across India have visited Singur and declared their support for the residents' struggle. Unions and social activist groups organized a national day of solidarity actions on December 28.

On January 7, protests against a land acquistion scheme in West Bengal's Nandigram, where a popular committee similar to Singur's Krishi Jami Raksha (a joint platform of small farmers, sharecroppers and agricultural workers) has been set up, evoked a harsh police response resulting in the death of at least 7 residents. Faced with firm local opposition and splits within the ranks of the CPI-M, the largest party in the Left Front government bloc, the government announced the cancellation of its plan to turn over 10,000 acres of rich agricultural land for the construction of a chemical complex to the Indonesian Salim Group (notorious Suharto cronies), and has promised a wider consultation before selecting the land.

The state government's retreat in Nandigram has again focused attention on Singur, where resistance remains strong, many farmers have not agreed to give up their land, and sharecroppers and workers who are being offered nothing but the loss of their livelihoods continue their struggle.

On January 10, Anuradha Talwar and other PBKMS members and organizers were illegally detained without warrants at the railway station while attempting to travel to Singur. Other prominent supporters of the Singur struggle were detained without warrants by police in Kolkota, in anticipation of their travelling to Singur.

The situation remains extremely tense in Joonput-Haripur,where the PBKMS is spearheading resistance by the poor and landless to the government seizure of 5,000 acres of productive farmland - among the most fertile in West Bengal - for the construction of a nuclear power plant which residents strongly oppose. In November, massive resistance organized by PBKMS and other groups blocked the entry of Nuclear Power Corporation officers into the area to inspect the site. The nuclear officials have now submitted a report to the Prime Minister calling for approval of the site without having undertaken any inspection.

Act Now!

Write the government of West Bengal, demanding it lift immediately the Section 144 ban on assembly in Singur, stop the harassment and detention of supporters of the struggle to block the land seizures, and end police terror in Singur. Tell the government that industry can be promoted without eliminating much-needed agricultural land - and the jobs and homes of those who produce food. Seizures of agricultural land must cease and land use determined through the democratic process, with the participation of agricultural workers.

You can send a message to the Chief Minister and Governor of West Bengal by clicking here .