A good debate is being lost in political rhetoric in West Bengal. The Singur issue should have evolved as a developmental debate. But political parties and leaders have drowned a good debate which touches on many global issues.
THE SINGUR blockade had the backing of many intellectual and environmental activists – right from Mahasweta Devi to Medha Patkar to Vandana Shiva; unfortunately, they are being branded as anti-national, corrupt and anti-development activists.
I would like to state the basic premise of the developmental debate which is at the heart of the issue. In West Bengal, nearly 70 per cent of the landmass is agricultural and fertile, most of it multi-crop. Farming provides livelihood for a majority of the population. So, if any new industry is to come up, land acquisition is essential. There is a Land Acquisition Act which allows the government to acquire private land for public use provided the best rehabilitation and compensation package is made available to the affected farmer. How do you rehabilitate a third or probably fourth generation farmer? Monetary compensation is not enough when you take away the roots, shelter and the source of livelihood of the people along with their land.
During a food crisis, agro-based industries are the most suitable and sustainable option for such states. We need to strike a balance between agro-based industry where we take a big chunk of the farming community along with us and modern industry (which will anyway arrive, thanks to the economic trend driven by globalisation).
Development does not mean bringing in the IT sector, heavy industries, highways, retail shops, railway lines and real estates to the detriment of agricultural land; nor does it mean denying proper rehabilitation package and alternate source of livelihood to the farming community. Such a development will result in increased displacement, increased unemployment and increased poverty rather than overall economic growth. Development needs to be questioned and debated upon, for it is not just a tale of what future a piece of land awaits; it is more about what strategy we should devise that does not marginalise our farmers. A piece of land sustains not just the farm-owner and his family but the labourers and their families as well who work in the farm; it is also linked to the economy of the village and the agricultural future of the nation; it is also linked to the rice and vegetables we eat - something that is becoming unaffordable!