10 August 2011

Who Is The Owner? What Is The Project At Kulpi?

Developments at Kulpi have confirmed that benami transactions that avoid the land ceiling on agricultural land are taking place.  A meeting on July 27, 2011, at the Block Development Officer’s (BDO) office in the presence of the BDO, the Block Land and Land Reforms Officer, the Officer in Charge (OC) of Kulpi police station, the MLA and the Panchayat Samity Sabhapati. PBKMS members and Debjit Dutta from the National Alliance of People’s Movements insisted that they would like to talk to the land owners rather than the middlemen or “arrangers”. A letter was then produced by the OC and the MLA from a law firm, R.N. Ghosh and Associates, on behalf of an unnamed client, which mentioned that their client was planning a maritime manufacturing business at the “project site” in Tangrachar and Rangaphala.

“Who is the client?” we asked. No details were forthcoming. “What is the project?” asked the local people. No answer was given.

The background to this meeting is as follows: when the land sharks or “arrangers” (as the middlemen are known in Kulpi) began fencing off the land on July 22, the village women objected to it. There was a tussle between the women and the “arrangers”, forcing the police to call a meeting to resolve the problem. On July 27, when about 50 women and a few men from the PBKMS arrived at the Kulpi BDO’s office for this meeting, they found themselves outnumbered. A drunken mob of about 300-400 people with placards saying “We Want Industry” had surrounded the BDO. The plan was to intimidate the complainants, in which they did not succeed.

At the meeting, it was decided that the PBKMS would have to put in specific complaints, which would then be examined by the administration. Subsequently, PBKMS has helped 11 individuals file complaints. Five of them - Jabdali Peyada, Alauddin Jamader,Aipan Beowa, Badal Sarder and Sabur Ali Jamader- are bargadars or sharecroppers. They are not being allowed to farm their land, as the landowner has sold it to the mysterious new landowners. The law, however, says that the landowner may change but the bargadars’ rights to till the land remain. Four sisters - Ayesha Bibi, Firuja Bibi, Chokina Bibi and Khodeja Bibi - have also complained, saying that their land had been sold by co-heirs without their consent. Nabeen Sapui has complained that he had taken land on a registered lease for 10 years but the leasee-owner has sold off the land before the end of the lease period. And, the crowning glory is Jaharul Mollah, who says his land has exchanged hands without his knowledge!

Fish workers have also complained that their access to the river is being denied and that they fear that the new project will pollute the water leading to loss of occupation for them.

Despite these pending complaints, we found much to our surprise that the police again began helping the “arrangers” fence off the land. This August 5, the local people gathered once again to stop fencing. Strong protests over the phone to the administration at all levels led to the withdrawal of police protection for the illegal fencers. This has turned out to be a mixed blessing for now the “arrangers” are using country-made guns to protect themselves and to prevent protests while fencing continues.

This August 8, the individual complainants filed in court for injunctions. We have also brought the matter to the notice of the Ministers of Land and Land Reforms (who also happens to be the Chief Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee) and the Minister for Industries and Commerce, Mr Partha Chatterjee, on the same day.
Street-corner meetings, village meetings, putting up posters and distribution of leaflets were conducted on August 8 and 9 to create awareness among the public on the issue. 

                    Letter to District Magistrate

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