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Sez: the Threat to Security [1]


Singur-Nandigram: SEZ: The Threat to Security [1]

[Author: Saonli Mitra; translation: Rama Kundu; from the original Bengali article published in Dainik Statesman, Kolkata, 27 & 28 May 2007]


It is frightening. We are so frightened! Is it being foolish! Yet one cannot help remembering , a few centuries ago European merchants had set up many small colonies in this our India. Owing to the political weakness of India, they gradually began to expand in size and power. Among all these outsiders who came to India initially for trade, how the British eventually emerged the strongest and usurped the whole country is a story known to us all. Many among those who have been ruling us today had been witness to at least the last phase of the British rule. They must have known from their own first hand experience that even after the British had left, the French, Dutch, Portugese colonies still remained in India. And those regions were autonomous. Even after India had become independent those regions continued to be autonomous subject to their own laws until these were completely merged with the federal state of India. Today, arrived at the twenty-first century we know very well that we do not have the best possible political integration; then , in view of this situation, would it be good for the country if we hand over different regions of the country to foreign investors in the name of SEZ? Would it really bring ‘development’?

During the last few years the food distribution situation in West Bengal have reached a miserable condition. Furthermore, how can we claim that there is really no dearth of food? The ‘foundation’ about which the government has been making a lot of fanfare—is it really that strong foundation? People died in Amlashol for starvation. We didn’t care. Every now and then news appear on papers about the extreme poverty of Purulia. The government either disowns them or dismisses them as isolated events. Recently a similar event has taken place in Chaklatorh of the same district. This time too the administration has shamelessly distorted it. The government report records the death of one Ramprasad dan Modak of the village, but not as a case of starvation death; the report claims that as a result of taking ‘khichuri’ he has died of acute gastro-enteritis. This is the report, they say, that has been submitted by the state health department . Several features have appeared in dailt newspapers on the tea-gardens of North Bengal—how people are dying of hunger there. The administration says, the teagarden labours have a very dirty life style; so they catch infection and die of various diseases; besides they are also alcoholics, and alcohol is the cause of most of these deaths. How man can insult man, with what callousness! I personally have been to poor slums, have seen their clean kitchens. Besides, what about the children who are dying there? Are they too dying of excess alcohol consumption? What unjust abuse they can hurl and how casually, without caring to have a thought! It seems just saying something is enough; it does not matter what one says. Yet these people are suffering from tuberculosis , or severe anemia , — all caused by starvation. This suppressing the fact of death by starvation, or just simply ignoring it—doesn’t this abet to our danger? Debabrata Bandyopadhyay has expressed precisely this anxiety—if going this way we are not heading for some largescale famine. The facts are certainly fearsome. Since the events of Singur this fear has also been haunting me. In spite of being city-dwellers we can guess what price we may have to pay for ruining such a huge fertile area of multicrop farmland, for rendering it perpetually barren. Then is it possible that those who determine the policy of the government fail to recognize this simple truth? Actually they do not want to recognize. But why? Why have they been telling so many lies?

The question is not just opting either in favour of industry or against it. It is not even a question of choice between small industry or big industry. It is perhaps a question of the security of the whole country. There is enough cause for the anxiety. The most important cause is the way the government deliberately practices a lack of transparency regarding its industrial policy. The second reason is the unimaginable discrepancy in the government’s declarations, and the blatant falsehood practiced by the government. They have been telling lies even while addressing the assembly. The third cause is the strange eagerness exhibited by the government towards forcibly snatching the land from the farmers and handing over the same at cheap price to billionaires; at the same time selling false dreams to the public in support of this unholy alliance. In view of all these causes, and noticing the government’s intolerance regarding all these matters , we feel frightened. The apprehension stirs, ‘Why’? Why so much! Furthermore, even after horrifying events like genocide have taken place here, why do not the capital investors beat retreat? Certainly they have been given some such assurance which has no connection with the gain or loss, happiness or misery with the common people of this country. The level of that commercial tie certainly corresponds to some other calculation. When so many people have been saying, let them be given some other land instead of the multi-crop land like Singur, in fact that kind of land is already there close at hand, then why must they occupy that very fertile land? To serve what noble purpose? In this case it is not only the government, but the industrialist too seems to have been bent on the same fixed obsession. Is it really a ‘prestige issue’? Or is there some other more mysterious deal and conspiracy? Where the wall has been broken again and again, set afire, the work of constructing the wall has been still going on at government’s expense [?] , and the proprietors too, in spite of knowing everything, sneakingly come to visit the acquired area every now and then, and subsequently issue certificate about the satisfactory pace of work—is all this quite natural? And our experience tells us that even after acquiring land for industry, the authorities have not shown any real interest in setting up industry there. There is no provision to protect the industries that have come up; the recent devastating fire bears witness to this. Such a big area had been acquired; yet no thought was spared for the possible threats—no water reservoir had been built which could easily control the fire. Doesn’t this strike anyone as extraordinary? Is this the expression of a positive desire for development? That’s why I say, before going into the debates for –or-against development , these questions should be addressed first.

Doesn’t this strike anyone, why is it only the fertile lands which are being specially ear-marked? Don’t we know this will affect our self-sufficiency in food? Since sometime ago we were being told that the base of agriculture has been firmly established, the work is over, and now we must direct our attention to heavy industry. But the actual data tell another story. According to a report of the central government for the year 2004-2005, West Bengal is at the top of those states where families in the rural area do not get a proper meal for several months in a year. 10.6% of the total population of this state does not get a full meal throughout the year. Orissa comes next in this list. There this count is 4.8%. The difference is amazing. One feels like asking, ‘Is it true after all?’ But this is the figure given by none other than Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, who can be considered an expert in the area. He also says, subsequent to ‘operation barga’ the agricultural development that had taken place in West Bengal was ‘quite enviable’. That developmental standard was maintained for the ten years from 1983 to 1993. But since 1994-95 a decline had set in. And the position of 2004-5 becomes evident in the report. Don’t we know that once self-sufficiency in food starts declining danger can set in from many corners. The serious form that starvation deaths have already assumed in the districts, along with the reluctance of the government to take any step in this regard—how can we rest assured that as a consequence of this some disastrous famine will not explode in near future? Furthermore, if in the interest of sudden introduction of heavy industry in an agriculture-oriented country, we go ahead without appropriate consideration of all the aspects of the situation, and deliberately ruin fertile cultivable land for any more cultivation in future, it involves the danger of radical change in the very quality of the soil. Geologist Subrata Singha has explained this in quite a number of his essays. The question, therefore, is not just whether one is in favour of industrialization or against it. The question is about a far bigger damage. If we evade this question today that will be committing a great blunder. We’ll have to pay for that blunder through succeeding generations.

And it is in view of these thoughts that the extremely accelerated changes – in politics, economics, culture—lead to a deep apprehension. The sense of a kind of insecurity overwhelms us. One recalls the annuls of history, the message—that ‘history frequently repeats itself’. (1552 words)


A few days ago I came across a valuable discussion on SEZ in a little magazine. There was a hint in one of the essays which startled me. With every passing day that hint seems to be so true indeed! Modernisation of airport, floating dock, flyover, shining national highways, attempt to turn hilly paths to modern highways by ignoring all rules of safety and natural factors, night-club, health club, food park, special economic zone, retail shop—why such huge arrangements? And we should not also forget that all this had started way back in 1994, during the reign of Jyoti Basu as the chief minister.

If we just think of the geographical shape of West Bengal, we can also note how close the frontier is to the districts of North Bengal. Nepal, Bhutan, even China , — all are quite close to this region. Since the opening of the Nathula pass frontier has been more accessible. Given this situation, if thousands and thousands of acres of land are handed over to multinational or foreign capitalists, won’t it pose a threat to our national security? We know since a long time what kind of smuggling is carried on in Siliguri town itself. Everything from foreign consumer goods to drugs, and even arms are sold and bought there. Not only Siliguri, there are several other such dens in North Bengal. About these the administration never utters a word– neither the administration of the district, nor those of the state government , or centre. Year after year this has been going on. To whose hands have they been surrendering the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri? Chandmoni has already been thrown to the wolves by being handed over to housing projects. Phulbari ids waiting in the line; there thousand acres of land have been earmarked for that particular economic zone. Who are they, coming to survey the land by helicopter? What is up their sleeves? Are we being allowed any information about these happenings? Can’t we understand, that by building so many roads upon the hills we have been inviting grave consequences generally for a large number of people? It is being propagated that the market for tea industry is not that good any more; just like the other propaganda that development cannot be achieved through agriculture. We had been to Siliguri where we met people in an expanded meeting, and we had learnt directly what a lie was being spread about the market of tea industry. And it is on this pretext that the tea-gardens are being treated with extreme apathy, thereby pushing the labourers in the tea-gardens toward disastrous death; similarly, we are afraid, the threat to our country’s security is also being ignored. Because in the proposed SEZs the laws of the country will not be operative. They will follow their own law. Consequently each zone will devise its own set of laws. The police or the law of the state will not be effective there. Is it a healthy plan? Especially when in the name of eco-tourism, private housing , etc, efforts are going on to hand over enormous stretches of land to privileged outsiders? Disturbances are daily features of the frontier area. We hear of rackets—rackets of flesh trade and trade in illegal arms – which are supposed to be so powerful in this Bengal, especially under the systematic patronage of political mafia, that it is beyond the police to nab them. Smuggling, trade in illicit liquor go on undisturbed. How many more activities go on alongside we have no idea. And cases of murder and revenge in connection with these illicit trades are part of the daily routine of this area. The goons attached to various parties get various facilities thanks to their utility value in heinous political conspiracies. Sometimes on the basis of such events some ‘stories’ get published here and there. Then eventually it subsides. The government too takes no step. If these illegal activities were stopped and an adequate superstructure for agriculture was created the common man could have been benefited so much!

Is the South Bengal very secure either? In order to come down from the north to the south, one has to cross the district of Nadia. Any reader who reads just the newspaper with an open mind can have an idea of the desperate illegal activities that are being carried on in places like Krishnanagar, Ranaghat, Mayapur of this district. One needs no specialization for this. It can also be guessed from the newspaper that flesh trade,– the count in the smuggling of women—is very high in Nadia and North 24-Parganas. Recently it appears that ‘Sex Tourism’ too has come up in the agenda of our rulers as an important project. It can be seen that the Border Security Force fires shots on the occasion of stray cattle thefts, but the activities of the dark underworld go on expanding without hindrance. We know several plots of land in this area have been earmarked for acquisition. So it is in Malda, where the barbed wire of the frontier is visible everywhere. The situation of the South 24-Parganas is even more critical. In this district land is being acquired at Kulpi, Baruipur, and reportedly in some other area as well. Particularly in Kulpi it is going to be a SEZ. It is reported that a floating dock will be built at the initiative of the executives of the SEZ. Has the sea-route become so ignoble that the land at the estuary of the river has to be given away to SEZ! Won’t it affect our national security? A similar threat has been haunting the port area of Medinipore. Why must they have the ‘chemical hub’ precisely at Nandigram? And that too under the total control of foreign agencies? What is the guarantee that no serious damage will be done by using /abusing the Haldia port? Why must they install the Nuclear Power Project at Haripur, near the sea? Our apprehension and mistrust were sparked off by these very projects. Subsequently it opened our eyes to other related threats. It is common knowledge that the main purpose of installing nuclear power project is related to the production of nuclear arms. And this is going to be done under foreign supervision. We have heard that those who have been invited to set up the ‘chemical hub’ are the farm that produced the infamous napalm bomb. They too are scheduled to work on the land that’ll be gifted to the Salim group. Their work will start inside the special economic zone. And why this chemical hub? Nobody tells anything clearly about this. Both the State and the Central governments have been declaring their firm decision every now and then—chemical hub will be, must be; nuclear power project will be, must be. If not at Haripura then it will come up in some adjacent place. The Nandigram villagers are causing trouble? O. Kay ! There is Khejuri nearby. Albeit the representative of the Salim group says, they are thinking precisely of Nandigram, no other location has been mentioned in their negotiations with the government. About Haripur too it is the same situation.

Don’t we feel frightened? Because, in this case it is not only the state , but the centre too is quite eager. They decisively want the chemical hub or the nuclear project to be set up even if it affects the collection of revenue. Those who will be given land for SEZ will not have to pay either income tax or service tax, at least for the next ten years. The expenses they will incur towards setting up the infrastructure will also be totally exempted from tax. They will install their own device to meet their electricity requirement, and for that they will not have to pay anything to the government. By allowing them similar countless concessions, by forcibly uprooting and dispossessing the peasants from their land and habitation and handing over that land to foreign capitalists—is this being motivated by the thought of the ‘development’ of the country? Why this mad rush ignoring all the caution of the common people, nuclear scientists, agricultural scientists, social scientists of a democratic country? Perhaps are rulers are not too concerned on the question of security; otherwise such an annul of corruption would not have evolved around the defence ministry which is responsible for security.

I don’t know if this anxiety is unfounded. If unfounded, it is welcome for us all. But the anxiety is growing, because the facts tell us that since independence till 2000, in this our West Bengal 47 lakh acres of land has been acquired for various reasons, and that has affected 70 lakh people. Even after all this, and after having been under left rule for thirty years, recently we have been left on the threshold of this grim horror of SEZ! So we feel deeply frightened about security. We have not forgotten the danger this our country had been made to face by the Chinese aggression of 1962. [1507 words]

[Author: Saonli Mitra; translation: Rama Kundu; from the original Bengali article published in Dainik Statesman, Kolkata, 27 & 28 May 2007]

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