Singur land-owners launch farming on ‘soil of gold’

Singur (West Bengal), Oct 20 (IANS) “This is ‘shonar maati’ (soil of gold),” the reverence in Sushant Ghosh’s voice was unmistakable. For the 54-year-old farmer, whose family had lost 20 bigha of land ten years back, Thursday heralded a new era, as he proudly stepped into his plot of land holding a banner that announced his ownership of the site.

For Ghosh and other peasants like him, who had taken part in the iconic land struggle against the Tata Motors’ Nano project in this rural belt, questions about the productivity and fertility of the restituted land seemed utterly meaningless on Thursday. They just laughed it off.

Emotional and jubilant, they betrayed no sense of fatigue despite having to wait under a blazing sun for the arrival of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee — the “didi” (elder sister) for whom they showed love, gratitude and respect for reinstating their “gold” to them.

In her inimitable style, Banerjee descended among the Singur farmers to re-launch farming in this rural belt in Hooghly district by a symbolic sowing of mustard seeds, a gesture that reminded many of her support to the community’s heroic struggle against forced land acquisition.

She spent over an hour at the Gopalnagar locality here — some 40 km from Kolkata — on Thursday handing over physical possession of land to a section of the cultivators who donned white caps and repeatedly mopped the sweat with ‘gamcha’ (locally made cotton stoles).

Banerjee officiated the process with as many as 23 eagerly awaiting land-owners, who sought Banerjee’s blessings and good wishes, amid the thrums of folk music and buzzing insects.

Stooping down and scooping out a clutch of soil, Ghosh told IANS, flaying the idea of single crop farming: “This is ‘shonar maati’. What can’t we produce? We can grow potato, jute, paddy, cucumber, cauliflower, brinjal and others. We can grow anything and thanks to Didi, we will begin again.”

The Supreme Court on August 31 struck down the land acquisition made by the erstwhile Left Front regime for the small car factory and ordered the land be returned to the cultivators within 12 weeks.

A special agricultural kit in hand, Ghosh, who along with his two brothers, lost 20 bighas of land to the forcible land acquisition, touched Banerjee’s feet and joined her in sprinkling mustard seeds to officially launch farming.

The kit given to the community by the state government comes with the seeds, a biofertiliser and other additives besides booklets.

“After some time, they will grow potato, and then paddy. In this way, they will cultivate multiple crops,” said Banerjee.

As the supremo of the principal opposition party Trinamool Congress, Banerjee had spearheaded the protests against land acquisition from 2006 to 2008, undertaking a 26-day hunger-strike and followed it by a 16-day sit-in, demanding 400 acres out of the 997.11 acres acquired for the project be returned to those farmers who did not want to part with their land.

Banerjee planted herself among the land-owners and interacted with them individually, doling out suggestions. True to her ‘Maa Maati Manush’ image, she seemed at ease with them. The heavily ploughed land didn’t seem to offer any resistance to the Chief Minister’s gait, that mirrored her infectious ebullience and charisma.

“She asked me to take care of the land. My father is old and ailing but still wanted to come and meet Banerjee as he loves the land,” Ghosh said.

Ghosh and others like 54-year-old Chandicharan Chakravarty are waiting for the rest of the land to become cultivable.

“They are doing it phase by phase. At first we will start with mustard and then later branch out. Our sons and daughters can carry on with farming or they can do whatever they want with it,” Chakravarty told IANS.

Asked for his take on industrialisation and development, Chakravarty welcomed the idea but advocated consulting the farming community.

“If they consult us and then decide to demarcate a certain portion for industry, we may agree. If CPI-M (Left Front spearhead) had discussed it with us, then a different approach could have been taken,” he said.

As for the fate of the roughly 3,000 sharecroppers and farm labourers — mainly belonging to the lower castes or the Adivasi community who do not possess any land but depend on it for their livelihood — the owners say they will be back.

“They started working elsewhere but they should now come back to Singur,” Chakravarty said.

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