The Telegraph of Calcutta (they seem not to have gone along with the name change to ‘Kolkata’) have an exceptionally powerful story and picture today. It follows up the clash on the struggles between ‘development’ (Tata Industries wants to build a fleet of cheap cars there) and farming in India.
I’ve written a bit about the background of one of the biggest fights, in Singur. One element missing from the coverage has been news of the fate of those so poor, they don’t even have land for the government to take away from them. The plight of landless labourers, at the bottom of the economic scale in agriculture, and therefore the poorest people on the planet, has often been given short shrift. This important article goes some small way to redressing that.
Forgotten in Singur, without food
Telegraph Calcutta, Our Correspondent.
Singur, July 2: A landless farm labourer died allegedly of starvation in Singur today, bringing under the spotlight a group forgotten in the land war.
Shankar Das, 48, died at Dobandhi, a village of farm workers most of whose 90 families lost their livelihood after the fields they worked in were acquired for the Tata Motors project.
The government’s compensation package is available only to the owners of the acquired land, who are now at the focus of a tug-of-war between the CPM and the Opposition.
“Since the plots were taken over, we have been battling hunger and malnutrition,” said Kamal Bairagi, 38, at Dobandhi, 55 km from Calcutta.
“We had been living on rice, puffed rice and chira sent by the (Trinamul Congress-led) Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee, but the supplies weren’t enough,” Shankar’s wife Anima said at the Dases’ home, barely 50 yards from the Tata Motors boundary wall.
“The two of us and our four children hadn’t had a decent meal in six months and had become extremely weak. Yesterday, my husband said he was feeling ill. We took him to a homoeopath after midnight but he collapsed and died there.”
Homoeopath Subrata Ghosh, who has issued the death certificate, said the immediate cause was “cardiac failure from hypertension”.
The Hooghly administration denied starvation, adding that Shankar had been offered a labourer’s work at the small-car factory site but never turned up.
“Yes, the family lives below the poverty line. Many others in the village, too, are extremely poor. I had sent the Singur block development officer (BDO) but the villagers did not report for the labourers’ jobs at the project site,” said Shekhar Roy, the Chandernagore subdivisional officer (SDO).
The pradhan of the CPM-led Beraberi gram panchayat backed him. “We repeatedly invited the villagers of Dobandhi to work at the factory site, but they wouldn’t come,” Prabhas Ghosh complained.
“We are used to farm work; how can we go to the site and work as ordinary labourers?” Bairagi said.
Towards the end of last week, the administration began handing out National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme job cards.
“Shankar got his card on June 29,” district magistrate Binod Kumar said. “He was supposed to join an earth-filling job tomorrow.”
“Some of us received the job cards from the panchayats only on Saturday,” Bairagi said. “In any case, we need steady jobs; else we’ll die of malnutrition like Shankar.”
As the news of the death spread, the Raksha Committee brought food for the family and arranged for the cremation. Shankar’s daughters Dipali, 9, and Manasi, 14, and son Shanu, 12, were seen eating puffed rice from aluminium bowls.
SDO Roy said he had asked the BDO to go door to door at Dobandhi to ensure the villagers got jobs under poverty alleviation schemes. “We shall provide Rs 10,000 to Shankar’s family under the National Family Benefit Scheme.”