Social-Democratic Agrarian Programme in West Bengal and Trends in Agrarian Relations

Arindam Sen

BOTH THE admirers and critics of the Left Front Government (LFG) concur that its spectacular success in holding on to power rests on its achievements on the agrarian front – on its solid rural base. This year the LFG completes 25 years in office; would it not be in the fitness of things to make a fair assessment of its agrarian programme and to examine the emerging trends in political economy and class relations in the most stable Left-ruled state in India?

I. LF Reforms:

Three Pillars and Gaps Galore

RHETORIC APART, the immediate programme of social-democratic reform in post-Naxalbari, post-Siddhartha1 Bengal is known to have rested on three main pillars. In this section we discuss these one by one, and then go over to the other gaps and failures.

A. Land redistribution

OF ALL the ceiling-surplus land vested with the state since 1953 (when the West Bengal Estate Acquisition Act was passed) and the year 2000, as much as 44 per cent of this land (6 lakh acres) was obtained in the five-year period between 1967 and 1972, thanks to the energetic initiatives of the two United Front governments; another 26% (3.5 lakh acres) had been acquired earlier. We learn this from Table 1, which also tells that during the LF regime the momentum declined rapidly – so much so that in the last 20 years of its rule only 1.53 lakh acres were acquired, which amounts to almost a quarter of what was achieved during the very short UF regime and almost a half of what was obtained during the 14 years of Congress rule.

How about the actual redistribution of the vested land? Table 2 shows that if one takes 1977 as the median dividing the post-1953 period of land reforms, almost 60% of the actual redistribution (6,26,284 out of a total of 10,38,000 acres) was accomplished before that and the rest 40% afterwards. The yearly rate of redistribution also declined progressively. Comparing the last columns of Tables 1 and 2, we find that 3.7 lakh acres of land vested with the state remained undistributed. A Land Reforms Tribunal was set up in 2000 for speedy settlement of legal disputes pending for long years in civil courts, but so far it has cleared only 13,373 acres of land. (Paper presented by Mishra and Rawal; see below)

Litigations, of course, are not the sole reason for lakhs of acres remaining undistributed. In a report submitted to the WB government at its request in 1993, Nirmal Mukherjee and Debabrata Bandopadhyaya pointed out that at the end of 1981, vested agricultural land undisturbed by court cases amounted to 3.5 lakh acres, of which only 94,000 acres were distributed during the next 12 years. Moreover, some 80,000 acres of land had just “vanished”, if official records were to be believed. The surveyors showed that, together with undistributed land, these “vanished acres” were “worth at least Rs.34 crore per annum” and panchayats could not easily avoid “the charge of collusive misappropriation” on these accounts.

Seven years after the publication of the Mukherjee-Bandopadhyaya survey, Manas Ghosh reported in The Statesman (September 25 and 26. 2000) that the CPI(M) peasant wing was “lording it over” some 3 lakh acres of undistributed vested land and extracting 20 to 25 per cent of the production profits, which amounted to over Rs.40 crore even in mono-cropped areas.

Whether one believes the Statesman report or not, there is no denying that a huge quantity of ceiling-surplus land is still kept hidden with collusive arrangements among landowners, government departments and panchayat officials. Peasant organizations are flatly denied access to information on this score, while the statutory “permanent committees for land reform” under the block level panchayat bodies function as centers of corruption and favouritism. The powerful land lobby often prevents pattadars (allottees of pattas or title deeds) from actually taking possession of the land. Currently, our Party comrades are conducting struggles for proper redistribution of such land in many areas (e.g., in Britlihuda village under Chapra Police Station in Nadia district).

Apart from the question of vested but undistributed land, there is another, no less important issue: should not the ceiling be lowered further. We think it should. In a state where the number and proportion of marginal farmers are on the rise (currently 72% in official reckoning), there is no reason why the old ceiling limits (17.29 acres for irrigated and 24.12 acres for unirrigated land) should be kept as they are. Per acre yields have risen several times in the intervening years, so in order to just maintain the level of egalitarianism, the ceiling limits need to be revised downward. That would touch only a miniscule highest rung of the rural rich and benefit an incomparably large constituency of the underprivileged.2 But this is too much to expect from the present dispensation, which is reportedly considering upward revision of ceilings. The upper ceiling has already been abolished for agricultural operations undertaken by agro-based industries and food-processing units, and considerably relaxed for urban areas; these may well be the first steps in the ‘right’ direction!

B. Operation Barga

IT WAS a real operation that started with a big bang. Bureaucratic red-tapism was brushed aside, and some 8000 “camps” were organized throughout the state, between October 1978 and June 1982, to register as many as 6,75,000 bargadars (sharecroppers). But it took no more than about a decade for the whole thing to end with a whimper. The NSS data pointed out that only 30.6% of all bargadars were registered and that there was a distinct class bias, too: of the landless tenants, only 16% were recorded, whereas in the case of big tenants the corresponding figure was as high as 71%! This puts to rest all controversy as to which class, at the end of the day, has benefited most from the great reform!

Several other limitations of the programme are also to be noted. Nowhere in the state is Operation Barga (OB) extended to bodo [boro] cultivation (summer crop of rice), although there is nothing in the law to prevent that. Secondly, the law (West Bengal Land Reform Act 1955, as amended subsequently) stipulates that the lessor would get half share only when he supplies all the inputs, and will get 25% share in all other cases; but the Operation did not attempt to enforce this in any way. In real life we find about half-a-dozen different sharing arrangements, almost always advantageous to the lessor.

But the most fundamental question about OB concerns its politico-economic orientation.

Elimination of all intermediaries between the state and the actual cultivator (who engages in direct cultivation with own or/and hired labour) – of all rent-collectors other than the state – constitutes a key bourgeois democratic reform. It facilitates the unhindered flow of capital into agriculture, so advanced representatives of the bourgeoisie support this reform. Communists also fight for it in the stage of democratic revolution because they wish to abolish the vestiges of feudalism, unfetter the development of productive forces and clear the arena of class struggle, making the battle between capital and labour more direct, more intense. Way back in 1952, the Kumarsha conference of the Bengal Provincial Kisan Sabha passed a categorical resolution saying “it is the aim of the Kisan Sabha to put an end to the sharecropping system and grant ownership right to the bargadar”. The 1973 CPI(M) resolution on “Certain Agrarian Issues” also held that the “right of the tenant to the ownership of the land he is cultivating is to be guaranteed, except to those who are lease-holders from small owners.”

The party’s Bengal leadership, however, proved to be more prudent. Harekrishna Konar, renowned peasant leader and a minister in the UF government, announced that sharecropping could not be abolished by law so long as the “present social structure” existed. Benoy Chowdhury, a minister in the LFG, wrote in 1985 that occupancy rights could be granted to the sharecroppers only after all the tenants were properly recorded; any attempt to do that now would lead to large-scale evictions. (Chowdhury, 1985)

The question of ownership was thus cleverly shelved, and the CPI(M)’s middle-rich support base kept intact. The direction of the government policy was then put on reverse gear: a quest began for a way in which the tiller of the soil could procure ownership not through movement but by paying a compensation, i.e., a way in which he could just buy up the land he tills. The idea of a land bank corporation was mooted, which would help such transactions with easy credit. Not surprisingly, the financial institutions did not oblige the state government by supporting the scheme, and that was the end of it all. Meanwhile, the landowners themselves devised their own mechanism for civilized eviction – a rural equivalent of golden handshake, as a peasant leader called it – where a small part of the land (or, in a few areas, a paltry sum of money) is given to the sharecropper as a consolation for ‘voluntarily’ giving up all right to the land he tills. The CPI(M) was quick to take up the cue. Just look at the following excerpts from a paper presented, at a state government-sponsored international seminar held in Kolkata in January this year, by Suryakanta Mishra, a front-ranking minister and a new member of the CPI(M) Central Committee, and Vikas Rawal, an expert on agrarian economy in West Bengal:

“On the future of sharecropping in West Bengal:

“IN THE recent years, there is a trend of the landowner and sharecropper entering into a mutual agreement under which ownership right on, say, 25 to 30% of the sharecropped land is given to the sharecropper. Peasant organizations have been debating whether this should be accepted…So far, the stand of Kisan Sabha has been not to enter into or encourage such negotiations because [in that case] all the sharecroppers will ultimately get evicted. But with this increased urbanization, the cost of land in the vicinity of the urban areas and even in non-municipal urban agglomerations has been increasing very much. So if even the cost of, say, 10-20% of land is given to the sharecropper, he will get more return from the interest of the amount than from cultivating the land. It is clear that the non-involvement of the peasant organizations weakens the bargaining power of the sharecroppers in this respect.

“In the past there had been demands for making sharecroppers owners of the entire land. It does not seem likely that the existing correlation of class forces will permit that because a good number of landowners who leased out are not [sic! this word seems to be an inadvertent interpolation – AS] small owners themselves. The immediately realizable goal in respect of sharecropping is to allow a fair agreement for dividing the ownership rights between the owner and the sharecropper…The government has been considering about bringing a legislation on this…

“It is also debatable as to how much share in land should the sharecropper get. The peasant organizations have been demanding that the legislation should provide for fifty-fifty division between the sharecropper and the landlord. While this will be possible in rural areas, it might be untenable for the urban areas.

“… The Kisan Sabha is more or less united to take the line that until the legislative change in this respect is brought about, the Kisan Sabha should take the side of the sharecroppers in entering into such negotiations and help the sharecropper get a fair share in the ownership of land.”

So, this is the much-awaited follow-up to OB! The authors admit that in the peasant organizations, including their own, there is much resistance to the proposed legislation. They intervene in the debate on the side of the landlords, asking the peasant organizations to forget the old demand and take up the role of a dalal or intermediary in land deals (whether with a brokerage or not is anybody’s guess). They warn the peasant organizations not even to press for “a fifty-fifty division” in all cases. Making a mockery of Marxism, they reduce a question of principle – of abolition of semi-feudal land relations in favour of the peasants, of the tiller’s right to land – to logic of the market. Leave in advanced and backward regions respectively. (Bhowmik, 1994)

As regards lessees, most of them are poor and marginal. According to estimates of the statistical cell of the Board of Revenue, Government of West Bengal, the average size of landholdings under tenurial contracts is 0.97 acres. (Khasnabis, 1994) The actual condition of the sharecropper is portrayed fairly accurately in a grassroots report, adopted at the Bainchi-Jinna local conference (Hooghly district) of the CPI(M), December 2001:

“…Recording of bargadars did take place on an extensive scale after the LFG came to power. But subsequently many of them took recourse to distress sale, even of recorded land…Sharecropping is no longer remunerative. Increased cost of cultivation and non-remunerative prices of the produce are pushing the bargadar into a tight corner. As a result, the inclination towards giving up barga rights is increasing…”

Well, would not many of these sharecroppers find some respite, may be, a way out of the extreme crisis, if they are allowed to keep the entire produce, that is to say, if they are granted ownership rights?

The overall picture on both sides of tenancy relations thus leaves us in no doubt that there is a strong case for granting ownership rights to the overwhelming majority of bargadars (estimated at a total of around 25 lakhs), may be with some compensation in some cases. For instance, a lessor who depends solely on rent for subsistence – e.g., aged/disabled persons, single mothers/widows and so on – may be provided with appropriate compensation or some other special arrangement. On the other hand, cases of reverse tenancy (more about that later on) are obviously to be exempted (hence our slogan: ownership to the small bargadars). Some other special cases will also be there, for the current class configuration in rural Bengal does not warrant a simplistic implementation of the “land to the tiller” slogan. These are but questions of detail, which can and must be sorted out through democratic consultations among peasant organizations and concerned intellectuals, once the basic principle of tiller’s right to land is accepted and not reiterated. But the CPI(M)’s perpetual fear of losing the support of the so-called “middles” kept the whole issue in limbo for some 35 years since 1967, and now with the forthcoming legislation, the half-measure nicknamed OB is all set to be given a formal – and not so decent – burial.

C. Panchayati Raj: Growth, Welfare and Empowerment

PROBABLY THE most acclaimed part of the LFG reform package is the party-based panchayati raj (PR). In terms of pioneering role, stability and regular elections, the Bengal model no doubt ranks first in the country. Now let us briefly take stock of the progress it has achieved so far in two key areas: (a) poverty alleviation (under the combined impact of PR and “land reforms”) and (b) devolution of administrative authority, and empowerment of the weaker sections of society.

A stubborn statistical duel has been going on for quite some time now in respect to agricultural growth rates and poverty levels in West Bengal vis-à-vis other states in India. It is not possible here to go into details and conclude the debate but we should at least set the record straight.

First, it is to be noted that a serious problem was involved in the changes in methodology for collection and preparation of crop output data. Until the 1980s the Bureau of Applied Economics and Statistics (BAES) conducted independent sample surveys for acreage estimation and crop cuts for yield estimation. The subjective estimates of the Directorate of Agriculture, the state agency charged with implementing policies to boost agricultural production, could be checked against the BAES figures, and the BAES data were generally used as the basis of official state government estimates. In the early 1980s the DoA unilaterally began to ‘adjust’ some BAES estimates. In the mid-1980s the integrity of the data was further compromised as BAES sample surveys for acreage estimation were abandoned altogether, and official yield figures were converted to a simple average of the often quite divergent BAES and DoA estimates. Such flaws in methods naturally casts doubts on the official estimates and inferences. (Rogaly et al, 1999)

Secondly, even if the production figures supplied by the state government are taken to be fully reliable, much depends on choosing the base year. A growth rate of 6.9% per annum in foodgrains can be, indeed has been, reported between 1981-82 and 1991-92. Now, in 1981-82 as well as in 1982-83, the harvests were unusually low. If 1983-84 is chosen as the base year, the same data would show an annual growth rate of 4.3% per annum up to 1991-92. (Sengupta and Gazdar, 1997)

Thirdly, agricultural growth in West Bengal is not as unique as it is sometimes made out to be: it forms part of a general turnaround in eastern India – notably in West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa – in the 1980s. The belated spread of green revolution to rice-growing areas seems to be the main proximate cause of this general upturn. After 1991-92, however, there has been a plateauing of foodgrains production in West Bengal in the 1990s: coming down from 12.7 million tonnes next year, rising slightly to 12.9 and 13.1 million tonnes in 1993-94 and 1994-95 respectively. (Rogaly et al, 1999) Another cause of concern, as the Mishra-Rawal paper cited above points out, in an “increasing…shift from production of foodgrains to other crops” and to plantations, fisheries etc., which “can threaten food security for the poor households”. The paper admits that the LFG is yet to come up with any action plan on this score. Having said all this, one must accept that agricultural growth in West Bengal under the LFG has been impressive. Did that, coupled with other measures including “land reforms”, translate into any drastic reduction in rural poverty? The government says yes and cites in support figures from the World Bank Report (2000), which are in turn contested by others. The controversy took an unexpected twist in mid-March this year, when it came to be known that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has offered to finance and coordinate a fresh, detailed “participatory poverty assessment” project in West Bengal because the state, along with a few others, stands below the national average in terms of poverty ratio. The ADB is currently the LFG’s closest partner in development projects, and the government is favourably considering the proposal. In the mean time, let us cast a quick glance over a few recent estimates of rural poverty in West Bengal compared to other states and the national average.

Figures 1 and 2 show that rural mean per capita consumption as well as the head count ratio of rural poverty rose and fell in West Bengal more or less in tandem with the rest of the country, showing hardly any sustained special achievement. We have reproduced these figures from Haris Gazdar and Sunil Sengupta (Ben Rogaly et al, 1999). Basing himself on the 50th Round (July 1993 to June 1994) of NSS data, Ranjan Ray made very detailed estimates of rural and urban poverty. In Table 3 we present some of his findings, which show that in terms of all the available indices of rural poverty, West Bengal stood below the national average and fared better than very few states. (Ray, 2000) On the other hand, the LFG’s performance in providing subsidised foodgrains to the rural poor is admitted to have been worse than that of state governments run by reactionary parties, such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Coming to the question of devolution of power, recent studies – including one by the West Bengal government itself – has found that the onetime frontrunner now lags behind some other states. Early this year, Matreesh Ghatak and Maitreya Ghatak, after taking note of the “admire[able]…achievements of West Bengal as a pioneering model of participatory government,” pointed out: “A recent inter-state study by Jain (1999) covering all the major states put West Bengal not only behind Kerala but Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka on indicators such as the power to prepare local plans, transfer of staff, control over staff, transfer of funds…Further more, a committee set up by the West Bengal government itself has criticised the district level planning process involving the panchayat system and state bureaucracy for lack of coordination and insufficient participation of the people, or their elected representatives, at the village level…The state government bureaucracy hands out district plans to district officials and lower tiers of panchayats have no say in the allocation of these funds or the implementation of these projects, unless they are requested to lend a helping hand. The amount of money spent through this channel is much more than that is directly handled by panchayats. Also, there is little attempt at coordinating between these two sets of plans at the district level [Government of West Bengal, p.6],” (Ghatak and Ghatak, 2002)

Why did the LF in West Bengal lag so much behind the LDF in Kerala? The authors have come up with several explanations. One is that the intense political competition the LDF faces vis-à-vis Congress compelled it to score political points over the rivals by launching the ambitious People’s Plan campaign just after regaining power in the 1996 elections. More generally, “…redistributing power and resources away from the state government, where the hold of the LDF is uncertain, to the local government can be viewed as a rational political move. In West Bengal, given the LF’s secure tenure at the state government level, the need for such radical reform is much less.” (ibid)

This otherwise valid observation misses out one important point. In the last few rounds of parliamentary and assembly elections the LF suffered serious jolts in the rural areas too, and that might have provided the compulsion which prompted it to introduce and emphasise mandatory village constituency (gram sansad) meetings. In this meeting every villager is entitled, and expected, to participate and monitor the various projects from planning to execution to review stages. But God proposes in heaven, man disposes on earth. The fine idea of CPI(M) state leadership is ruthlessly set to naught by the party’s local functionaries who have developed deep-rooted vested interests in course of prolonged stay in power and would not share power with the people. In fact, this was experienced as early as in 1986, when an ambitious pilot project for ensuring people’s participation in developmental planning at the village level was taken up in Medinipur by the district authorities in collaboration with IIT, Kharaghpur. According to those associated with the project, it fizzled out because, “firstly, the elected panchayat representatives felt threatened that their newly acquired status would be eroded by direct empowerment of the people and their involvement in the planning process. Secondly, a large part of the panchayat members as well as leaders and functionaries of political parties were employers of wage labour and they felt threatened by the prospect of the empowerment of the working people.”

The same set of circumstances have put paid to the subsequent gram sansad facelift too. In the bourgeois administrative framework of decentralisation and devolution, the problem is best summed up in the following words. “…the early success of the panchayat reforms in West Bengal has generated some political forces that stand in the way of further, more radical, reform…A coalition of white-collar employees (School teachers, government employees) and middle peasants, the so-called rural middle strata, have emerged as an important power base in the party and resist further devolution of power that a true people’s plan would entail.”

The masses of the downtrodden, however, are wise enough to understand that any measure of democratisation can only be achieved in course of struggles against organs of power, not excluding the panchayats. They are engaged in continuous skirmishes with the panchayat representatives of rich and upwardly mobile middle peasants, who made rural Bengal in league with the police and the state bureaucracy, over a host of issues including land and wages, relief and development, favouritism and corruption, and so on. From avowed centres of mass mobilisation, PR institutions have decomposed, over the years, mainly into targets of mass movements. On our part we have been trying to lead this movement – with such slogans as people’s supervision on panchayat bodies and devolution of power to the gram panchayats from the upper tiers and from the state bureaucracy – even as our representatives carry on the battle from within.

D. Potholes on the Reform Road

LET US hear, once again, from Suryakanta Mishra and Prakash Rawal: “As the land reforms could not be combined with a large-scale provision of formal credit and non-land inputs, the small and marginal farmers who had obtained land under the programme were again exposed to the sections of rural society that controls other forms of capital…Although the old types of moneylending have declined…their place has been taken up by new types of moneylenders. It is basically a pre-capitalist relation, though of a new type.

“…pre-capitalist relations continue to persist in the agrarian relations and production processes in various forms. Sharecropping is widely prevalent…informal moneylending is rampant.

“…There was a transformation from semi-feudal landlords in the direction of capitalist landowners…most typically they are neither feudal nor capitalist…While the land base of this class has weakened, it is difficult to say what has happened to the overall levels of economic disparities, say in terms of their share in…value of all assets and capital, and in value of production. It is likely that the overall levels of disparity have not declined very much…”

Now, have a glimpse of what the party’s lower-level cadres feel about the burning problems: “The cost of cultivation has risen several times, so marginal and small farmers are being forced to take loans from mahajans (moneylenders) or, alternatively, to lease out their lands to rich farmers on seasonal basis. Distress sale of land is also witnessed. Capitalist concentration of land is taking place.” (From the Report adopted at the CPI(M)’s Sixth Pandua Zonal Conference, Hooghly District, December 2001)

Well, such observations in the ruling party’s official papers and documents reveal no more than the tip of the iceberg. We shall discuss these issues in the light of our own experience and investigation, but before that a few words on one major gap left untouched by the reform.

Lack of what Mishra and Rawal call “adequate state intervention in agricultural marketing” is a problem the ruling CPI(M) complains about all the time, but does nothing to solve (to whatever extent possible for a state government). To insistent demands of state procurement of at least the major crops and of crop insurance and subsidised inputs, it continues to turn a deaf ear, proving thereby its utter incapacity to support the farming community in this era of liberalisation and globalisation. The reform regime has left unscathed the old agrarian marketing chains and practices, where traders and warehouse-owners routinely discriminate against small producers. The latter was promised help by the cooperative ‘movement’, but that was as much a non-starter in this sector as in others. On the contrary, a proliferation of trading intermediaries has taken place under – and in no way challenging – the old monopolistic control over local wholesale trade. The nexus between the regulatory state authorities and the “rurban” commercial elite, which had developed during the Congress regime has only been strengthened. For details on the buckling of the LFG to trading interests, readers may consult Ross Mallik (1993), and a paper by Barbara Harriss-White in Ben Rogaly et al (1999).

II. Trends in Political-Economy and Class Relations

IN SECTION I we have considered the consequences of agrarian reform (and the lack of it). But these do not fully describe the goings on in rural Bengal. Closely related but basically autonomous trends in political economy also contribute, in more fundamental ways, to the reshaping of class relations and contours of class struggle. In this section we propose to consider some of these broad, largely pan-Indian, trends in the typical context of Left-ruled Bengal.

A. Merchant’s Capital: Spreading Tentacles

TO BE fair to the LFG, it did try to extend institutional credit cover to the rural poor when it first came to power. But the success was limited and short-lived. In 1979-80, about 6% of a total of 22 lakh bargadars and pattadars received bank loans. (Ghosh, 1981) Even this could not be maintained because the cooperative credit structure soon fell into a state of limbo thanks to corruption and mismanagement, while commercial banks stopped whatever meagre advances they had extended to the poor peasants once the latter became defaulters. The 1980s saw the moneylenders on a comeback trail, and the situation steadily worsened ever since.

According to the latest round of rural investigation3 conducted by CPI(ML)’s West Bengal State Committee, mahajani loans (loans taken from village moneylenders) constituted 28.51% of the total rural credit while credit from cooperative societies accounted for only 7.06% The rest 64.43% were provided with loans by commercial banks, but as much as 62.19% of this loan was cornered by the above-3 bigha households which constitute only about 28% of rural households. The below-3 bigha households, i.e., 72 per cent, had to be content with less than 385 of bank credit. This group, however, took more than 56% of mahajani loans. Generally speaking, the trend is for the poorer families to depend perforce on such loans, often used up on mere subsistence or exigencies like marriage, shradhha etc. The more interesting finding is that a large number of middle peasants take recourse to mahajani loans because what they get from the formal credit market do not suffice for modern cultivation. Thus we see that families owning 7 to 10 bighas of land constitute only 5.22% of total households in the survey area, but they take 16.57 of mahajani, 15.76% of cooperative and 10.87% of bank loans. Usurious capital thus remains the main source of credit not only for the poor but for the lower-middle peasants too. The picture changes rapidly as one moves up the caste scale. In our survey area, there are 39 households (1.43% of the total) in the 20 to 30 bigha category. Of these, only 2 families took loans from moneylenders amounting to Rs.52,000 (1.59% of all credit from this source), 3 took loans from cooperative bodies (Rs.1,32,000 or 16.32% of the total) and 11 families borrowed from banks (Rs.9,27,000 or 12.57% of all bank credit).

The operation of usurious and mercantile capital takes very many forms. The age-old system of dadan (taking a loan on the security of the crop to be grown) is a growing phenomenon in many areas, particularly in the case of vegetables and commercial crops, which need high investment. The harvest is ties, and the price pre-fixed by the creditor (often a trader) is well below the expected market price, this difference implying interest at an exorbitant rate. The most widespread practice these days is for the trader in fertilisers, pesticides etc. to sell these on credit and charge, say, 20% extra over the normal price when repayment is made after harvesting, usually in cash but sometime in crop. The imputed rate of interest in these cases ranges from 6 to 10 per cent per month, more or less comparable to money advances repayable after harvesting. Such exorbitant rates are sought to be justified on the ground of high risks involved: no legal document, no collateral. In real life, however, default rate is very low because the lenders wield direct social power over the poor borrowers; moreover, the latter sincerely try their level best not to lose this very last resort. The current trend of decline in interest rates in the organised credit market does not seem to have any bearing on the informal rural credit market because the latter operates in virtual isolation from the former – in areas where formal credit institutions do not tread. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, panchayat employees and other salaried people also a not very significant role in this market. Recycling of loans – borrowing in the formal market and lending in the informal – is often resorted to by propertied people having “proper connections”.

The small and middle peasants’ dependence on merchant capital extends further to marketing and warehousing, and takes many forms. To cite one, buyers and sellers meet and transact at the aratdar’s (stockist) shop, using his weighing balance, and the latter charges around 7% (on the sale proceeds) for this small service; in some cases he also helps the prospective buyer and seller to come into contact with each other. The loss a small cultivator incurs on distress sale, the ‘extra’ which the small producer of, say, potato, has to pay for a space in the cold storage – these are only some of the more common means by which merchant’s capital sucks out a good part of the producer’s surplus, and in many cases even of the necessary product.

The renewed and extended domination of merchant’s capital is an unmistakable feature of semi-feudalism – of retarded transition from feudal to capitalist mode of production, that is – and the West Bengal experience is a striking illustration of the “law that the independent development of merchant’s capital is inversely proportional to the degree of development of capitalist production”. (Capital, Vol.III, Chapter 20, also see box).

“The transition from the feudal mode of production is two-fold. The producer becomes merchant and capitalist, in contrast to the natural agricultural economy…This is the really revolutionary path. Or else, the merchant establishes direct sway over production. However much this serves historically as a stepping stone…it cannot by itself contribute to the overthrow of the old mode of production, but tends rather to preserve and retain it as its precondition…This system…worsens the conditions of the direct producers, turns them into mere wage workers and proletarians under conditions worse than those under the immediate control of capital, and appropriates their surplus-labour on the basis of the old mode of production.” – Karl Marx, Capital, Vol.III, Chapter 20


In other words, the crisis of capitalist transition and the domination of merchant capital in West Bengal “tends… to preserve” the elements of semi-feudalism, probably the most important one in the case of West Bengal is that by financing the peasant small holding and small tenancy structure it enables the latter to survive and reproduce itself in the face of unequal competition from developed rich peasant farming and the pressures of market forces. Of course, it is a losing battle but the small cultivator carries on, and the price he pays for unviable farming is perpetual anxiety and a life standard often going below that of the rural proletariat. The last sentence in the boxed quote – where “old mode” should be taken to mean, in our case, not feudalism proper but semi-feudalism in a semi-colonial setting – thus portrays an accurate picture of our poor bargadars and small owner-cultivators.

B. Capitalist Trends in Tenancy

FLABBY AND conservative that it is, capital in India penetrates agriculture not in steady steps sweeping away the remnants of feudalism, but in hesitant detours accommodating and utilising those remnants. One of the many symptoms of this is that traditional bhagehas (sharecropping) is not so much by direct cultivation by capitalist landowners as by small-scale thika chas. The latter refers to fixed rent (to be paid in cash or in crop) seasonal tenancy, i.e., a lease contract for one season or year which may or may not be renewed for the next season(s). The advantages to the landowner are obvious: he gets an assured, no-risk return without any monetary investment; he keeps the lessee under constant economic pressure without any personal intervention because he is free to change the lessee at will; there is no threat of “barga record” and he is even free to take up direct cultivation if and when that appears to be lucrative enough, and also to revert to lease contracts later on. Not surprisingly, the incidence of lease cultivation is the highest in Punjab and Haryana (accounting for 85% of all tenancy contracts while for India as a whole 47% of tenancy contracts are for fixed money (29%) or fixed produce (18%), whereas only 40% account for the traditional produce sharing. (Sarvekshana, October-December 1995).

For the Bengal scenario we can depend on our own investigation. According to a survey conducted by the Kolkata chapter of Indian Institute of Marxist Studies,4 the area under tenancy (all types taken together) increased from 350.16 acres to 401.60 acres in the survey area. Within this the proportion of sharecropping declined from 86.70 per cent to 44.54%, that under fixed rent system (thika) rose from 4.96% to 47.08%, and the ‘mixed’ cases remained almost constant at a little more than 8%. The switchover to the fixed rent system is quite rapid (in tune with the national average) but the rate is far behind that observed in Punjab and Haryana.

Another new trend is reverse tenancy – substantive farmers leasing in land usually on seasonal or yearly contract. It emerged as a notable trend in the 1980s and 1990s when many poor and lower middle peasants found the enhanced cost of modern farming prohibitive, even as families with investible surplus found the high profits lucrative and began to expand their operational holdings. There is wide divergence of opinion as to how strong this trend is in West Bengal. In 1993, Ross Mallick noted that the incidence was quite high. SK Bhowmik in his 1993 work took note of the presence of reverse tenancy, “though not as intensively as in some green revolution areas.” In his 1994 article Ratan Khasnabis observed that “such peasants [indulging in reverse tenancy – AS] are very small in percentage terms”. In any case, the actual incidence of reverse tenancy varies greatly not only from area to area but also from season to season and year to year because rich peasants take to or give up this practice in accordance with the rise and fall in profit expectations.

In sharp contrast with such profit-oriented tenancy stands the subsistence tenancy of poor bhagchari whose net share of the produce (after deducting the expenses he incurs on cultivation) covers just what is needed for subsistence. So what he gets amounts, in terms of economic content, to a form – a semi-feudal form, one might say, of wage, i.e. the value of labour power. Such tenants or agrarian workers in disguise also come out as day-labourers in farm or off-farm employment; in the true nature of things they personify and represent a process of painful metamorphosis of landless/poor peasant into the rural proletariat/semi-proletariat as a consequence of slow transition to capitalism.

We do not go into further details on tenancy relations in West Bengal; vast literature is available on the subject (see, in particular, Comrade Sivaraman’s two-part review article on Bhowmik’s exhaustive work (1993) in Liberation (September and October 1996 issues). Our brief discussion, it is hoped, has brought to focus considerable materials relating to what Lenin had described as “the formation of capitalist relations within this very [attended by “feudal features” – AS] renting of land”. (Lenin, 1908; emphasis in the original)

C. Modes of surplus appropriation, accumulation and domination

IMPORTANT CHANGES in conditions of cultivation (e.g., the spread of bodo paddy cultivation, multi-cropping, the shift from mainly rain-fed to mainly irrigation-dependent farming in many areas) and a certain degree of development of productive forces (in inputs like HYV seeds, machinery, techniques and skills) over the past two decades have led to appreciable changes in inter-class and intra-class relations in our agrarian society. Take the case of new methods of irrigation.

The introduction of the green revolution package in West Bengal demanded, and soon led to, an irrigation boom in the 1980s. In addition to traditional sources like tanks, rivers and canals, “shallow” tubewells (those fitted with diesel, and rarely electrical, pumpsets) became very popular and proved very effective. Since the late 1980s, however, falling water tables led, in many cases, to the introduction of mini Submersible Tubewells (MSTW). The MSTWs can reach more secure water sources (more than 15 meters below ground, compared to 8 to 10 meters in the case of shallow tubewells) and this eliminates or reduces the risks of the tubewells running dry during the peak withdrawal seasons. Moreover, they have a command area several times bigger than the “shallows”. But the high cost, and the reluctance of the bankers to grant loans under the “minor irrigation development programme” except to those whom they consider creditworthy, place these machines beyond the reach of even the upper middle peasants. In areas where other means of irrigation are unavailable, a monopoly over water supply is created, and the MSTW owner uses that in either of two ways: selling water at an exorbitant rate to other cultivators in the command area, thereby extending a hegemonic influence over them; or offering to take others’ plots in the command area under thika lease, thereby expanding his operational holdings and profits. Either way, he stands to gain and dominates the scene.

But the implications of this, still continuing, shift of emphasis to “submersibles” or “mini deep(s)” as they are popularly called, do not end here. Diesel-powered pumpsets are not only far cheaper but much more mobile and versatile: they can be easily carried and used for irrigation from rivers, canals, tanks and also fitted to tubewells. For middle and rich peasants with scattered holdings they have been a great help. The MSTW, a far more fixed arrangement with a fixed structure and command area, enhances the urge for consolidation of holdings and concentration of land (cf the mention of “distress sale” and “capitalist concentration of land” in Hooghly district, which boasts a large concentration of MSTWs, in the Pandua Zonal Conference Report of the CPI(M).

At another level, the rapid depletion of ground water caused by them is believed to lead to arsenic poisoning (over 2 lakh people in 7 districts in the state reportedly affected by the ailments), and also threatens the availability of groundwater in the future. The problem peaked in the mid-1990s when the experts blamed the excessive withdrawal of groundwater also for shortage in the state’s main canal-feeding reservoirs (The Statesman, 11 December, 1995). There was even talk of purchasing water from Bihar. The 1997 bodo paddy faced deep crisis in districts like Murshidabad, Birbhum, Howrah and Hooghly. All this forced the state government to monitor and restrict the installation of new MSTWs, thereby preserving and strengthening the water monopoly of existing owners. The latter freely exploit their grip over this absolutely unsubstitutable input to behave like “waterlords” and charge an absolute rent, so to say, on dependent cultivators. Community MSTWs do supply water at a much cheaper rate, but they are grossly inadequate to meet the rising demand, and the LFG seems to be in no mood to ensure collective water rights to the less substantive sections of the peasantry.

Like sale of water, hiring out tractors and other implements like diesel pumpsets have emerges as major means of extending hegemony and appropriating surplus. In many cases, ploughing by tractor becomes even technically necessary and a smallholder has to depend on the goodwill of a big cultivator of an adjacent holding to get his tiny plot ploughed by tractor simultaneously with the bigger holding. He makes a good payment for this service, of course; still he feels obliged because refusal by the owner/hirer of the tractor would put him in a fix. New ties of dependence thus grow up – new forms of what used to be called patron-client relationship. The monetary gain is also great: many a capitalist farmer is known to have bought his second tractor with the profit made simply by hiring out his first. In fact, reinvestment of surplus in modern implements (and in trade) is generally believed to be free from the hassles associated with very big landholdings and to yield safer, higher returns at least in the short run. This is the main factor (not the ceiling law), which explains why the degree of concentration of modern agricultural machinery is much higher than that of land – a fact brilliantly brought out in the Party state committee’s rural investigation report.

In this survey we found that households owning more than 15 bighas (approximately 5 acres) of land constitute 4.57% of rural households but own 34.91% of all arable land, 71.53% of tractors and 84.5% of “pump-shallows”.5 If we calculate the coefficient of concentration (percentage of any particular item – say, land – owned by a particular size-class divided by percentage of households in that size-class) for each item, we find that it is 7.66 for land (34.91 divided by 4.57), 15.65 for tractors and still higher at 18.50 for pump-shallows. But this does not mean that the top rungs of rural society are loosening their grip on land; the very opposite is true. On the basis of NSS data, Dipankar Basu calculated that the value of the coefficient of land concentration in the 5-acre-plus category has increased from 4.81 in 1972 to 5.94 in 1982 to 7.19 in 992. (Basu, 2001) These findings tally perfectly with ours. It appears that the rising trend has continued, reaching 7.66 in 2001.

We can therefore infer that during the LF rule the upper middle and rich peasants have, thanks to their incomparably better access to capital-intensive technology, actually consolidated their relatively small (compared to the past and to certain other states) advantage in landholding. They also have fanned out into sundry agro-related businesses like mini rice mills, fertiliser and pesticide retailing, petty moneylending, and so on; but land still remains the base of their socio-economic prosperity and influence.

It is the top rung of these substantive farmers that constitute the Bengal version of kulak class, the principal target of class struggle today. They often appoint managers to supervise their sprawling operations, send their sons (rarely, daughters too) for higher education in metropolitan centres and maintain close relations with dominant political parties. They wield the maximum social authority and control political power at local levels, providing the funds and materials (rice, liquor etc.) needed for mobilising votes. They have no qualms about changing sides and such shifts in their support played not a small part in the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-BJP challenge even to the rural bastion of LF. It is they who take the lead in uniting the rich and middle peasants against he rural poor (on wage questions, on developmental issues like priority in electrification, the location of, say, a community tubewell, and so on) as well as in tackling the movemental forces with the power of money and political connections. Unlike their counterparts in Bihar, they do not keep private armies, but, if need be, can get the same purpose served by the police and CPI(M) cadres or TMC/BJP/Congress muscleman. For a graphic illustration of the ways of this class vis-à-vis the rural proletariat, read the story of Dadpur, reported in Sub-Section E, below.

D. Subsistence farming and economic diversification

AGRARIAN ECONOMY in West Bengal continues to be a small peasant economy, but one that draws support and substance from a spurt in multiple economic activities in the non-farming sectors. In fact, rural Bengal at the turn of the century is marked by a queer coexistence of two opposite trends: (i) continued and renewed centrality of subsistence and supplementary farming and (ii) growing monetisation and diversification of the non-agricultural economy. “About 72% of the producers in rural West Bengal”, Mishra and Rawal pointed out in their paper, “…produce primarily for their subsistence and not for the market.” In addtion to this subsistence farming by small cultivators, one also witnesses among wage workers, the spread of what we have called supplementary farming. A large section of wage earners in agricultural and/or other jobs try and arrange for producing at least part of the rice required for consumption on own or leased-in land. According to the Rural Labour Enquiry, 1993-94, almost half of rural labour households in West Bengal possessed small amounts of land – as against less than 6% in Punjab, less than 15% in Haryana and less than 25% in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. (Let us note in passing that this indicates a particularly sluggish differentiation of the peasantry – which is a function of capitalist development – in West Bengal.) Such otherwise irrational and unviable farming can actually take place because the producer deprives himself, and perhaps, his family members too, of the wages due to them. This is his survival strategy, particularly for the slack seasons when jobs are difficult to come by, and grain prices are particularly high.

Side by side with subsistence and supplementary farming, we notice a growing diversification of the rural economy manifested in the proliferation of off-farm employment and sideline occupations. According to preliminary reports of the latest (2001) Census, there is a large exodus of workforce from cultivation to “household industries,” small rural industries, salaried jobs, professions etc. so much so that for the first time in history, the proportion of main workers engaged in cultivation (cultivators and labourers taken together) has come down to 43%!

Well, that does not contradict what we see in real life. A big – in many cases the bigger – ever-changing proportion of those known as khet majoors (agrarian laborers) actually get an equal or higher number of work days as dinmajurs (day labourers in unspecified jobs – such as in brick kilns, rice mills, various development projects like Indira Awas Yojana, minor irrigation projects and so on. With extensive urbanisation and the development of roads, markets, warehouses etc., occupations like rickshaw and cart pulling, carrying headloads, working as cleaners and garage assistants, hawking, operating small shops and so on now offer temporary or fulltime employment to a large number of people, specially the new entrants into the labour market. As for sideline or auxiliary occupations, mention must be made of poultry, livestock breeding, fishing, cane work, processed food preparation, beedi making etc. participation of women has increased several fold in these areas, and to some extent in agriculture as well. Moreover, poor people have devised ingenious ways of augmenting family income. Many of them lease out ponds (the owner is to be paid a certain amount of money, take up Poshani [rearing cattle], say, a cow owned by another person – on condition that the first calf will go to the caretaker, who can keep it or sell it while the owner gets the milk or vice versa; actually there can be innumerable variations like these) and engage in such activities on an increasing scale.

What is the economic significance of this? An attempt is being made in some circles to project these, particularly the Census findings, as yet another great achievement – a sign of (capitalist) development spilling over from agriculture into other areas. Do the textbooks not tell us that economic progress entails an expansion of the industrial and tertiary sectors vis-à-vis agriculture? Well, in view of the various indices discussed in this essay, such an inference would sound utterly ridiculous. Judged in that overall context, the trends mentioned in this sub-section only point to a rural economy where agriculture, stagnating in terms of forces and relations of production, can no longer function as the mainstay of capitalist growth, which therefore takes place by other distorted means.

E. Trends in labour relations


The Downtrodden are Standing Up

IN MANY ways it was Karanda re-enacted. Thatched houses of agrarian workers in the Kehabpur-Sompara-Ghoshpur cluster of hamlets under Dadpur Police Station of Hooghly district were gutted on 14 February, two days after seven worker leaders had been arrested amidst severe police repression on the poor households. There was no loss of human life because male members had already been absconding and others managed to make good their escape. Everything else, including paddy and cattle were destroyed. The story began in November last year when the khet majoor demanded a wage increase of five rupees for ordinary labourers and Rs.20 for those involved in the particularly arduous work of carrying the produce from the fields to the granaries. The wealthy employers flatly rejected the just demand. The workers struck work. The paddy was ripe and began to rot. After a few days the employers had to bite dust and accept the demands. Seething with rage they decided to punish the workers, first by abandoning the impending potato cultivation and by using migrant workers for the next crop, i.e., bodo cultivation. The first part of the economic vendetta was successful, with the workers pushed into a state of semi-starvation. Then, in February, the employers actually started hiring in workers from outside. The agitating labourers physically resisted and foiled the scheme. The police was called in. Repression started on the 12th February, culminating in the midnight fire two days later. Like Karanda (in Burdhman district), this area is located in one of the most advanced belts of “green revolution” in the state, and is a CPI(M) stronghold. Class polarisation is unusually sharp, but both sides owed allegiance to the ruling party. The arrested were CPI(M) members/activists, including the ex-panchayat representative and labour leader Sukumar Murmu; the burnt houses also belonged to party followers. Leading the employers was Mohammed Sirajuddin, a typical kulak leader of the CPI(M); influential member of its Polba-Dadpur Zonal Committee, a teacher and owner of 30 bighas of high quality, triple-cropped land with a MSTW. The big difference with Karanda was that there the khet majoor comrades had already crossed over from the CPI(M) to our Party. Their political activism had become a much greater threat. So the scale of repression was much higher. But in terms of independent (in the truest sense of this overused word) class assertion of the agrarian proletariat, the unsung heroes of Keshabpur-Sompara-Ghoshpur have held out a new promise, a great hope.

WEST BENGAL shares with most other states a number of recent trends in agrarian labour relations: (a) growing off-farm employment, (b) a shift from a permanent/attached labour to casual labour and from (c) intra-village labour employment to conjoint employment of local and migrant labour, (d) progress from beck-and-call service and extra-economic coercion to voluntary contractual arrangement including group contract and (e) a marked increase in independent class action on the part of agrarian labourers coupled with more collective (rather than personal as in the past) operation by the capitalist farmers. Let us now see how these general trends take on particular forms in West Bengal.

We have already taken note of (a) while discussing the growing diversification of the rural economy. As regards (b), the main aspect is the dissolution of old landlordism and, with it, the end of traditional labour service and debt bondage sometime extending across generations. But that does not mean a complete end to all sorts of informal, often disguised attachment relations along caste, familial and economic lines. The traditional mahindar (attached labourer on 24-hour duty on a nearly permanent basis) is a rare figure today, but often the old system is recreated on a yearly contract. The chosen labourers also double up as field supervisors. Even in the case of free workers big farmers often strike up some sort of special understanding with some of them involving some small favours in return for assured supply of labour during peak seasons. The rich peasants prefer to lease out their separate plots to more than one poor/lower middle/landless peasants for bodo cultivation, with an implicit understanding that the lessee(s) with his family members will provide wage labour to the lessor during aman or aus crop on priority basis. Modern cultivation, with its stress on time management, is thus prompting landowners to recreate pre-modern dependencies, often mutual, in numerous ways. Such attachment, though voluntary and less than permanent (usually covering one or a few years), hampers the development of class solidarity among the wage-workers. The tiny section involved in such special arrangement usually hesitate to join strike struggles because they do not wish to spoil the source of assured employment in the expectation of a small and uncertain increase in wages.

Now let us consider the third point (c). If the vestiges or new forms of “patron-client relations” add to the difficulty of organising the agrarian workers in their militant class organisations, so do large-scale migrations. Workers come from most parts of the state as well as from the eastern and southern districts of Bihar, seeking employment in the main double crop paddy and potato growing district of Bardhman, Hooghly and a few other districts. The foremost source districts are Bankura, Birbhum, Malda, Murshidabad, Jalpaiguri, and the North and South Dinajpurs.

The potential as well as the actual use of migrant workers help employers in destination areas to keep the wage level suppressed. In the source areas, on the other hand, we find it difficult to build stable organisations of agrarian workers because its members are frequently in the roaming mode. Those who stay back in these areas sometime find themselves in a potentially advantageous position; they can utilise the limited supply of labour to press for higher wages. But, more often than not, this is offset by other difficulties: demand (of labour) itself remains low and most advanced and youthful elements are not available in the village at the opportune moment since during every peak season they go out in search of work. The outmigrants on their part face all kinds of hardships, arbitrary dealings and awkward situations – e.g., when wily employers try and use them as blacklegs against striking local workers – but unorganised and away from their own soil, seldom can they put up an effective resistance.

As for point (d), all wage labour is by definition contractual, but at least a couple of new features merit our special attention. One, the labour haat. Workers and employers from nearby (and also rather distant, but not very far) villages meet in an open field in the morning and the latter choose and pick the required number of labourers for the day. Only some – usually a minority – of the workers can sell themselves. Quite often a worker who leaves home at daybreak comes back at midday empty-handed (he has spent his pocket money on to-and-fro bus fare unless he is wealthy enough to own a bicycle) and with empty stomach, only to find his wife and children waiting in anxious expectation.

The labour haat is a crude, primitive form of capitalist labour market, brought into being by shortage of employment opportunities and developed communications. It differs from migration in that the latter takes the worker to a distant place for fortnights/months on end, whereas the labour haat entails daily commutation. In this market labour power is bought and sold, just like vegetables in the morning haat, through hard, direct bargaining at a price approximating the ruling market rate. Almost always (except during short peak seasons) it is a buyers’ market and the sellers, because they are not organised, gain but little from their enhanced mobility.

Secondly, phooran, or the system of hiring a group of local workers for a specific job (say, harvesting the crop on a particular field) against an agreed lumpsum payment, is growing more and more popular, particularly for harvesting work. The workers strain themselves to the maximum, just as piece-rate workers in industries do, so that they can finish the job quickly and take up another shift (or two) the same day. For a few days their daily earning soars, while the employer gains by reaching the harvest to the market ahead of other farmers. But the process sidelines the famale and the middle-aged workforce, and quickly drains out the vital energies of the younger ones.

As for the last-named trend (e), the situation in west Bengal is definitely different from all other states. Here the CPI(M) deviated from its national policy by refusing to form a separate agricultural workers’ union, preferring to keep the “dangerous” class tied to the middle-rich peasant leadership of the kisan sabha. A belated realisation of growing alienation from the agrarian workers recently forced the party to launch a separate organisation for them, but the essential class character of the CPI(M) has ensured that it remains a perfect paper organisation. On the other hand, communist revolutionary organisations, including our Party, have had successes in labour organising in few areas. Under the circumstances, independent class action of the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat is possible only by breaking the powerful political hegemony of the CPI(M) and fighting against the relief-reform-terror regime of the LFG. But that is the path they are taking – here and there, often unnoticed, slowly but surely. The latest example of this emerging trend was witnessed in Hooghly district, not very far from Kolkata (see box).

III. Towards a Thorough Reinvestigation

THE FACT that West Bengal has seen not a single sustained movement of the rural poor over the last two decades despite our best efforts cannot be explained simply by referring to the CPI(M)-LFG’s class collaborationist policies and terror tactics. For these policies to succeed, for the whole social-democratic politics to succeed, a proper material foundation and a suitable correlation of class forces were needed. And these were available, first, in the development, however lopsided, in productivity and productive forces during the 1980s; and second, in the suitable changes in the production relations which gave rise to new dependencies or symbiotic relations among mutually opposed classes and strata. But today we see agrarian growth tapering off, the elements of conflict inherent in various dependencies and attachments coming to the surface under the impact of the national agrarian crisis, and new fault lines coming up in the social base on which the present regime survives. Fresh scope is therefore certainly coming our way to end the stalemate. But that demands, inter alia, a deeper, more comprehensive study of the agrarian scene and a better systematisation of our rich but scattered ideas on the dynamics of class struggle in a state which saw the extreme revolutionary offensive followed by the extreme counter-revolutionary terror and then fell into a sordid social democratic equilibrium.


Basu, Dipankar (2001): Political Economy of ‘Middleness’ Behind violence in Rural West Bengal, EPW, April 21

Bose, Biman (2000): Expose TC-BJP campaign of slander and violence––unleash Mass struggles, Peoples Democracy, September 24

Bhaumik, Shankar Kumar (1994): Tenancy Relations and Agrarian Development––A study of West Bengal

Ghatak, Maitreesh and Ghatak, Maitreya (2002): Recent Reforms in the Panchayati System in West Bengal toward Greater Participatory Governance? EPW January 5

Ghosh, Ratan (1981): Agrarian Programme of the Left Front. Government, EPW, June (Review of Agriculture)

Government of West Bengal (1995): The Recommendations of The State Finance Commission, 1990-95

Khasnabis, Ratan (1994): Tenurial Conditions in West Bengal : Continuity and Change, EPW, December 31

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich: The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards the Close of the Nineteenth Century, Collected Works, Moscow 1973

Marx, Karl: Capital, Vol. III, chapter 20

Ray Ranjan (2000): Poverty, Household Size and Child Welfare in India, EPW, September 23


1 Siddhartha Shankar Ray, as the Chief Minister of West Bengal during the early and mid-1970s, was responsible for the worst repression let loose on communist revolutionaries and left and democratic forces. 

2 Using official figures, Dipankar Basu calculated that “by bringing down the ceiling on landholdings in 1997 to 10 acres, the LFG could have potentially made available an amount of land that works out to 98% of all the land that it has managed to redistribute for the past 23 years...And this would have adversely affected only 1.36% of the rural households! (Basu, 2001)

3 The survey area covered 4464 families spread over 7 districts – Nadia, Bardhaman, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Murshidabad, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri – with the first two accounting for the majority of villages and families.

4 The survey was conducted in 1998-99 in seven villages (mouzas) spread over all the five agro-climactic zones of West Bengal. It was our privilege that we had with us unprocessed data from a similar survey – based on the same questionnaire and methodology (the census system) – conducted in these and other villages in 1978 by a group of left intellectuals> it was thus possible to compare the two sets of data. 

5 Pump-shallows refer to a modified combination of diesel and electrical machines, which increases efficiency in lifting water.