Corporate Land Grab: Issues of Development and Democracy

Corporate Land Grab: Issues of Development and Democracy

In May 2004, there was a widespread sense of euphoria and victory as people across the country gave a stinging rebuff to the BJP-NDA’s arrogant ‘India Shining’ claims. It was clear that people were not prepared to pay the price of steeply rising prices, hunger and starvation, rampant unemployment and farmers’ suicides in order to keep corporate India ‘Shining’. Riding the wave of this popular resentment against neo-liberal economic policies and the communal fascist regime of the BJP-NDA was the Congress-led UPA and the official Left. The Left achieved their highest ever tally in Indian Parliament. The UPA scripted a ‘Human Face’ agenda – and the CPI-CPI(M) made many claims to be the watchdogs who would guarantee that this agenda was met. At the same time, the corporate media raised alarmist cries of ‘neo-liberal reforms in danger from the Left’. In the three years since, the ‘Human Face’ mask that tried to pull wool over people’s eyes has unravelled fast. Batons and bullets rained on the Honda workers in Gurgaon, the people of Manipur, the tribals of Kalinganagar, the farmers of Dadri – and eventually on the peasants of Singur and Nandigram. The courts mocked at most of those who came in hope of some justice – be it the slum dwellers in virtually every metropolis or the people of the Narmada Valley. The chilling death toll of suicides...

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Foreword

In May 2004, there was a widespread sense of euphoria and victory as people across the country gave a stinging rebuff to the BJP-NDA’s arrogant ‘India Shining’ claims. It was clear that people were not prepared to pay the price of steeply rising prices, hunger and starvation, rampant unemployment and farmers’ suicides in order to keep corporate India ‘Shining’. Riding the wave of this popular resentment against neo-liberal economic policies and the communal fascist regime of the BJP-NDA was the Congress-led UPA and the official Left. The Left achieved their highest ever tally in Indian Parliament. The UPA scripted a ‘Human Face’ agenda – and the CPI-CPI(M) made many claims to be the watchdogs who would guarantee that this agenda was met. At the same time, the corporate media raised alarmist cries of ‘neo-liberal reforms in danger from the Left’. In the three years since, the ‘Human Face’ mask that tried to pull wool over people’s eyes has unravelled fast. Batons and bullets rained on the Honda workers in Gurgaon, the people of Manipur, the tribals of Kalinganagar, the farmers of Dadri – and eventually on the peasants of Singur and Nandigram. The courts mocked at most of those who came in hope of some justice – be it the slum dwellers in virtually every metropolis or the people of the Narmada Valley. The chilling death toll of suicides...

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Repeal Land Acquisition Act 1894 and SEZ Act 2005

If 2006 had begun with the massacre at Kalinganagar, 2007 has dawned with the uprising at Nandigram. At Kalinganagar, land had been acquired more than a decade ago and all that the land-losing people had since been demanding was increased ‘compensation’ – a euphemism for the pittance they got in lieu of their land. Yet what they got were bullets and barbaric state repression that did not even spare the corpses of the victims. The people of Nandigram knew about Kalingnagar, they also knew about Singur where despite heroic local protests the state government forcibly acquired nearly 1,000 acres of fertile farmland. At Nandigram, the peasants therefore rose in revolt the moment they learned about the government’s sinister plans to acquire their land. The message from Nandigram has thus gone out loud and clear. The people would not give up their land without a war. Did the CPI(M) smell another Naxalbari at Nandigram? While the police had to beat a retreat in the face of powerful mass resistance, the CPI(M), in the words of one of its Central Committee members, threatened to “make life hell” for the people of Nandigram. A threat that was widely televised and carried out to clinical precision even as the administration watched in dutiful silence – it had presided over a “peace meeting” a few hours back – and the Haldia Development Authority which...

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Foreign Enclaves on Indian Soil

— Arindam Sen Already notorious as special eviction (for the “development refugees”), exemption (for the investors) and exploitation (for the workers) zones, SEZs call for a closer examination from the perspective of people’s resistance against this latest technique of rapacious capital accumulation. An SEZ will be almost a foreign enclave in our homeland, the bigger ones like islands of prosperity in this sea of poverty. You’ll have to have a passport or special identity card to be there. Peasants who once tilled that very land will now have to show ID cards to stand on it. A good many laws of the land will be partly or wholly inapplicable in these zones. The Constitution of India gives us the Panchayati Raj and the right to self-governance, but here much of that power is delegated to the Development Commissioner, who is to be appointed directly by the Central Government. According to of the SEZ Act 2005, the development authority of an SEZ will mainly comprise “the Development Commissioner, three officers of the Central Government, not more than two nominees of entrepreneurs.” None of these persons are elected by the people, but they have the mandate to develop infrastructure within the zone, provide water and sanitation services, levy “user charges” and collect property “fees” (the word “tax” has been avoided!). This means, in place of a democratically elected body of local...

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All Roads Lead to Singur in Buddha’s Bengal

— Dipankar Bhattacharya Is there at all any case for a debate and agitation over Singur? The CPI(M) leadership would like us to believe there is absolutely none and that the people questioning the great Singur model of industrialisation and rehabilitation are either stupid or mad or driven by ulterior motives. Some members of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and Central Committee have even attributed the parentage of the whole campaign to defend the people’s right to their land and livelihood to corporate rivals of the Tata group. For the Left Front government of West Bengal, the campaign is of course just another law and order problem that the state must crush by all means. The Chief Minister has proudly declared that nobody would be allowed to touch the tip of a single hair on Tata’s head. Singur has been sealed off from the rest of West Bengal by an unprecedented extension of Section 144 to cover every road that could remotely be suspected of ‘approaching’ Singur and stop all persons who seemingly have ‘malicious intent’ writ large on their faces! Beyond West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, wherever the CPI(M) is not in power, it asserts its right to question and oppose attempts by various state governments to forcibly acquire agricultural land in the name of setting up industries or SEZs. No problems with that, but should not the CPI(M)...

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SEZs: Manufacturing Illusions

— Kavita Krishnan Defenders of the SEZ policy propagate many myths about SEZs. Let us examine some of them. ‘SEZs are needed for industrialisation’ The most favourite argument offered by SEZ fanatics is that these are inevitable and necessary for industrialisation – this is the only path to development and growth. Is this true? The fact is that Western European countries, USA, Japan and many other developing countries achieved growth without any ‘special’ pro-corporate legislation. Even in countries like China which have gone for SEZs, there are only 6 SEZs – all state-owned and Government-driven. Industrialisation in most countries has taken place without the kind of incentives and huge concessions being given to corporates in SEZs. After all, why should industry need such huge hidden subsidies, so many ‘special’ rights? Even the Finance Minister of India has estimated that the exchequer will lose Rs.100,000 crore in the next four years as a result of the tax and duty exemptions given to the SEZs – and that is not counting other massive sops like cheap land. If such huge amounts were directly invested by the Government in industrialisation rather than in pampering corporates in SEZs, would it not be a less painful and surer way of achieving industrialisation? Obviously, the primary purpose of SEZs is not industrialisation at all. What, then, is the real agenda? Corporates are greedy for land...

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Legitimising SEZs: The Mask of ‘Amendments’

— Tapas Ranjan Saha A Critique of CPI(M)’s Proposed Amendments to the SEZ Act 2005 The CPI(M) MPs in Parliament quietly voted for the shameful SEZ Act. But when farmers’ protests at Kakinada, Dadri, Navi Mumbai, Singur and Nandigram exposed SEZs as a national shame, CPI(M) started demanding “amendments” to “improve” SEZs on the lines of the “Bengal model”. Well, let us take a look at their proposed ‘amendments’, and compare them – both with the Central SEZ Act 2005, and with the West Bengal SEZ Act 2003 and the WB Government’s )brochure“Doing Business In West Bengal:Policies, incentives, Facilities” published by WestBengalIndustrial Development Corporation(WBIDC). Box matter Would CPI(M) leaders please Explain: WHY did its MPs vote to pass the SEZ Act 2005 in Parliament in the first place? Does CPI(M) believe that it is necessary to create ‘special’ zones of ‘FOREIGN TERRITORY’ on Indian soil in order to promote ‘industrialisation’? Does CPI(M) believe that industrialisation is NOT possible without giving corporates a ‘special’ license to evade taxes and laws, evict peasants and grab land, and super-exploit labour without allowing it the minimum protection available under trade union rights and collective bargaining? CPI(M) claims SEZs are a necessary evil forced upon us by the Congress-BJP etc, and all we can do is to ‘amend’ them slightly. But if this is the case, how does CPI(M) explain the fact that its...

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Corporate Land-Grab: A Marxist Understanding

— Arindam Sen Primitive Accumulation in the Era of Globalisation As regards economic essence, the eviction of peasants and other toilers from their natural socio-economic habitat is best understood in the Marxian framework of “primitive accumulation of capital”: “The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realise their labour.” Involved here is “a process that transforms, on the one hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage labourers.” This “historical process… appears as primitive, because it forms the pre-historic stage of capital…” (Capital, volume one, Part VIII, Progress Publishers, p 668). The separation, however, is not completely achieved in one stroke. Petty production lingers on even under capitalism and the process of separating the labouring people from the means of production has to be continued or “reproduced” again and again: “As soon as capitalist production is once on its own legs, it not only maintains the separation, but reproduces it on a continually extending scale.” (Ibid, p 668) In a mature capitalist economy this is achieved mainly through the market mechanism but occasionally, barbaric extra-economic coercion is also utilised. In semi-feudal/backward capitalist countries, where market forces by themselves are not powerful enough to effect the complete separation by overcoming the primary producers’ economic and cultural attachment...

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If blood flows in Singur, it will wash away the CPI(M)’s seat of power in Kolkata…

(excerpts from Comrade Dipankar’s speech at Singur, 14 September, 2006) We have come here to congratulate you for the message of hope and resistance that you have sent out from Singur. Neither the Tatas nor Buddhadev could have possibly imagined that they would run into this kind of resistance in a state where only the other day the CPI(M) returned to power for the seventh successive term with such thumping majority. Both probably believed that they were the undisputed monarch of whatever their eyes could survey and perhaps they had also thought that the people of Singur would start competing among themselves to sell their land and get some compensation. They could not be more mistaken. The women of Singur chased away the joint team of the Tatas and State Government officials. The jhantas (brooms) of Singur have proved to be heavier for the time being than the combined might of the Tatas and the state government that is prepared to do everything to please the Tatas, Ambanis and Salims. We know Jyoti Basu scolded Buddhadev for not doing enough homework, for not pressing the Party and the CPI(M)-led peasant association into service. Since May 22, they are trying all means – but you continue to hold your fort. This itself is a very big victory and it has set a shining example for all who are trying to...

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The Singur-Nandigram Continuum: Lessons and Significance

— Arindam Sen Both Singur and Nandigram are fertile multi-cropped regions with a settled peasantry having deep socio-economic and emotional attachment with land. Both areas boast a tebhaga lineage and sharecroppers, the basic motive force of that historic movement, still constitute a significant section of the peasantry and a major force of the present struggle. An important difference is that Singur is a TMC stronghold with an MLA from that party while Nandigram is – or rather, used to be till recently – a CPI(M)/LF base with a CPI MLA and all panchayat bodies under absolute control of the CPI(M) and the CPI. This difference, however, melted away in the heat of class struggle when in both areas a very broad, very solid all-party people’s unity emerged on the single-point agenda of “save our farmlands” and became the greatest strength of the movement, the most important source of its spontaneous sweep and sustenance. If in Singur the agitation was formally led by the TMC-dominated Singur Krishijami Raksha Committee (SKRC) or “Singur Save Farmlands Committee”, in Nandigram seasoned CPI(M) and CPI activists themselves took the lead in preparing the ground for and then actually conducting the battle. Two Tactics of the Militant Left Our party did not have any contacts in Singur, but we grasped the great potential of the struggle and got involved from the very inception. Thanks to...

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Peasants on Warpath in West Bengal: Unmask CPI(M)’s Desperate Search for ‘Marxist’ Cover

— Dipankar Bhattacharya Three Decades of Uninterrupted CPI(M) Rule… In May 2006, the CPI(M) had won one of its most spectacular electoral victories in West Bengal. The CPI(M)-led Left Front government returned to power for the seventh successive term. The main opposition party in the state, the Trinamool Congress, had failed to win even thirty seats while the CPI(M) alone had romped home with an absolute majority and the Left Front as a whole had won four out of every five seats. Significantly enough, the CPI(M) had managed to win in a big way in urban Bengal as well, including the traditional Congress citadel of Kolkata. The CPI(M) was quick to claim that the May 2006 victory signified an overwhelming vindication of the party’s central election slogan: krishi amader bhitti, shilpa amader bhabisyat (agriculture is our foundation, industry is our future). The ‘future’ peeped out quite prominently at the seventh swearing-in ceremony of the Left Front government when big industrial and real estate tycoons made a special appearance for the show. Soon afterwards a beaming Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee addressed a joint press conference with none other than Ratan Tata by his side, telling the whole world that Tata had been gracious enough to gift an automobile plant to Bengal that would churn out cars for the people at a mere Rs. 100,000 apiece. The Birlas and Goenkas had long made...

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Common People Confront the ‘Special’ Zones

Most stories of corporate land grab have a predictable script: with identifiable themes like forced land acquisition, masked by ‘consent’ forged at gun point, handing of precious fertile land to mega corporates are throwaway prices with various other free services thrown in, and finally, if people insist on resistance, batons and bullets to suppress them, with both police and cadres of ruling parties and local goon squads working in tandem with each other. Some new aspects have been added to the script as people evolve new modes of struggle and take the resistance to new heights. Let us glance at some of the sites of such land grab and people’s resistance. ‘Reliance Power’ at Bajhera Khurd: Relying on Police Brutality In 2005, farmers of the highly fertile Dadri in Western UP, on the outskirts of the Delhi, found that what was declared to be the world’s largest gas-based power plant was going to come up on their land, to be taken over from them without their consent. At Dadri, farmers were not opposed to land acquisition for a power project per se; but the rate of compensation proposed was outrageously low. Land in this region costs Rs 13, 500 per square metre, while Reliance had proposed a compensation of Rs 150 per square metre and CM Mulayam Singh had announced a rate of Rs 350 per square metre. The...

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Nandigram: Fact and CPI(M)’s Fiction

— Kavita Krishnan A look at facts about the Nandigram massacre and CPI(M)-sponsored fiction. Quotations from CPI(M) leaders are from Brinda Karat’s ‘Behind the Events at Nandigram’ (The Hindu, March 30, 2007), ‘Some Issues on Nandigram’ also by Brinda Karat, People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXI, No. 13, April 01, 2007, ‘Defeat the politics of Terror’ (PD editorial of March 18), CPI(M) Politburo statement of March 14, ‘Singur: Just the Facts Please’, Brinda Karat, (The Hindu, December 13, 2006)]. ‘Behind the events at Nandigram’, says Brinda Karat, is no peasant resistance against corporate land grab. It’s not ‘bhumi ucched’ (eviction from land) but ‘CPI(M) ucched’ (evict CPI(M)) that’s up, she says. In a Let us examine the main arguments of Brinda Karat and Co., one by one. Box matter When People Unitedly Protest Against Corporate Land Grab, CPI(M)’s Trick is to Play the Communal Card! In Nandigram, since most of the protesting farmers happen to be Muslims, CPI(M) chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya rushed to allege that the protests were being fanned by the communal Jamaat-e-Ulema-i- Hind. Nothing can be more dangerous than such communal stereotyping. Clearly, CPI(M) tried to invoke Islamophobia to whip up deep-seated majoritarian anti-Muslim prejudices to delegitimise the farmer s’ struggle and prevent people from expressing sympathy with the protestors. It is really a shame that a self declared leftist party is now playing the communal card in...

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India Does Not Need SEZs – the SEZ Act Will Have to Go!

— Dipankar Bhattacharya Even as the Congress and the CPI(M) and their respective governments in New Delhi and Kolkata are busy covering up the state-sponsored barbarism in Nandigram, the ‘empowered group of union ministers’ has cleared the deck for the government’s SEZ campaign with only a few minor modifications in the SEZ policy. There will now be a cap on the size of SEZs – individual SEZs will henceforth not exceed 5,000 hectares. Half of the area in an SEZ will now be earmarked for the main processing activity with the other half still left free for real estate business. And governments will apparently no longer be involved in the act of forcible land acquisition – that part of the job will from now on be left to the free market! Of course, very soon after this announcement, Kamal Nath has declared that these rules are not final and binding – they will be reviewed if a particular case calls for it! With these minor modifications, the government has now paved the way for immediate notification of formal approval for as many as 54 SEZs. Another 29 SEZs just await clearance from the Law Ministry, while 88 applications are now passing through the stage of verification. Then there are 162 SEZs that have already secured in-principle approval and only formalities remain to be completed. And then there are 350...

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