The Citizens’ Convention

The Citizens’ Convention held on 3 November 2006, Friday, 4pm at Yuva Kendra, Moulali, Kolkata, resolved to submit a CITIZENS’ CHARGE SHEET against the violations of laws and rights committed by the West Bengal Government. We reproduce excerpts. The Convention was chaired by a five-member presidium comprising Dipankar Chakraborty, Editor, Aneek, Chandan Sanyal, General Secretary, NFSRU, Biswanath Dasgupta, Working President, Nagarik Mancha, Subhendu Dasgupta, South Asian Studies, Calcutta University and Amitdyuti Kumar, Working President, APDR. Signatories to the Chargesheet included Tarun Sanyal, poet and retired Professor of Economics, Sunanda Sanyal, retired Professor of English and ex-Member, Education Commission, WB, Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, IAS (retd) and former Commissioner, Land Reforms, GOWB, Basudeb Bose, General Secretary, AICCTU, Paltu Sen, Working President, IFTU, Sujato Bhadra, APDR, Amar Chowdhury, former Minister and present MLA, RSP, Meher Ali Engineer, President, WB Chapter, Indian Academy of Social Sciences, ex-Director Bose Institute, Pratul Mukhopadhyay, poet, composer, singer, Saibal Mitra, writer, Pradip Roy, WB Land & Land Reforms Officers Association, Tamanosh Bhattacharyya, All India Youth Federation, Sukhendu Bhattacharya, General Secretary, NAPM, WB, Srijan Sen, poet, Deblina Ghosh, All India Students’ Association, and several other academics and activists.
Charge 1
The West Bengal Government is acquiring agricultural land as per land acquisition laws and it is then handing them over to private sector organisations. Land is being acquired on the plea that as per law the Government can do this in ‘public interest’. The West Bengal Government is not explaining as to how building factories, mines, housing etc. for personal profit by the upper class owners, on the land of the poor tillers, can be deemed to be in ‘public interest’....
We, the citizens, are asking for a fresh land acquisition policy in writing from the West Bengal Government.
Charge 2
The other facet of the said policy on land relates to ascertaining the real value and usefulness of land... Food security, water security, conservation of nature, preservation of environmental balance, security of the livelihood of the rural people should be considered....
We urge upon the State Government for a written land related policy, which will not only deal with land acquisition but also address issues related to land use and land conservation.
Charge 3
There are a large number of closed and sick industries in West Bengal.... Government had given the land on lease to factory owners. When such factories do not exist the land is supposed to come back to the Government. Such land is not being offered for setting up of new factories. This surplus land is either remaining unused, residential apartments are being built on them or it is being used for other non-manufacturing activities. Instead the Government is giving agricultural land for setting up factories. Land use maps of various locations, as per Town and Country Planning Act, have been prepared but the Government has not made it public. If published it would be evident that land for setting up industries are available.
We call upon the Government to come clean with a written policy concerning land locked-up in closed and sick factories.
Charge 4
...Whereas the Government is signing agreements with the investors, the terms of contract are not being made public. The citizens have the right to know the details of such agreements between the Government and the private investors as per the Right To Information Act....
We are asking the Government to disclose the terms and conditions of the agreements it has signed with all the investors as per the Right To Information Act.
Charge 5
In order to solicit eagerly in favour of investment in West Bengal the State Government, we apprehend, is declaring relief to the investors who will not have to abide by the labour laws....
The basis of such apprehension is based on our experience in thousands of cases of locked out and closed industries in which the Government sided with the employers and not with the workers.
We urge the Government of West Bengal to formulate a policy in writing regarding labour employment, and implement it in all such proposed industrial units, which have the support of the Government. Moreover we want the Government to reveal, as per the Right To Information Act, text of all the labour related agreements with private investors.
Charge 6
....In the interest of creating fresh employment, existing workers and the environment, we urge the Government to come out in writing with its policy regarding the use of technology in industry.
Charge 7
While allowing various private sector projects on agricultural land, the West Bengal Government is stating as a justification that there would be employment generated here. However it is not giving in writing as to how much will be invested in which project; what will be the amount of subsidy provided by the Government; how many will be employed in which category of jobs. Moreover it is not being computed as to how many are dependant on and how much they are gainfully earning from the parcel of land on which the industry is being set up. The calculations concerning how many jobs will be created against the total jobs destroyed are not being done on behalf of the Government. We are of the belief that more people will lose their livelihood as compared to the number of jobs created in these projects. It is also observed that the entire spotlight somehow remains focused on such farmers who own land. The employment loss to the bargadars, the share croppers, the agricultural labourers and those involved in allied activities demands closer scrutiny.
There is one more aspect to be considered in this issue. It is not just a question of more jobs or less jobs. It involves the nature of jobs created vis-à-vis nature of those destroyed. Why does a skilled tiller have to become a security guard of a factory? Why should a woman worker skilled in allied agricultural activities have to become a maid at a neighbouring housing complex?
In this context we demand an employment policy in writing from the Government of West Bengal.
Charge 8
The Government is saying that in the interest of industrialisation, agricultural land is being taken away. Does industrialisation mean such capital-intensive factories alone or does it also encompass the healthy growth of other industries too? Does industrialisation mean ignoring the indigenous and local industries while supporting only capital-intensive large-scale industries?
We demand that the West Bengal Government should declare in writing its industrial policy in the interest of employment and small capital based enterprises.
Charge 9
When the farmers at Rajarhat (near Salt Lake) refused to hand over their land the Government, with the help of the police, had unleashed a reign of terror. Men, women, senior citizens of the families of farmers where recklessly arrested; many were harassed using the legal instrument of false cases; hundreds were physically tortured, jailed and fined. Similarly those who are trying to protect their agricultural land at Singur – men, women and children – are facing police torture, being arrested, being harassed with false cases, are becoming victims of forced disappearance by the police. Unbelievably thousands of police personnel are camping permanently at Singur.
We condemn such undemocratic attitude and protest such acts of torture, terror and harassment.
Charge 10
... Firstly, the Government is saying that fertile land is not being taken and only single-crop land is being taken. Without going into the debate / statistics on this issue, we state that even unfertile land can in many cases be made fertile. A single-crop land can be transformed into multi-crop land without degrading its quality. Hence this logic is baseless....
... the Government is now saying that economy of West Bengal will now have to be shifted from agriculture-dependency to a more industry-dependent state to ensure economic development. But how is agriculture creating obstacles to industrial development? It is not as if the necessary capital and labour for industry is tied up in agriculture alone. Countless numbers of people are unemployed; they can be employed in industries.
We demand a written policy from the West Bengal Government regarding the future path of economic development incorporating the equilibrium between agriculture and industry.
At present we the citizens would like to state that Government of West Bengal is committing a series of violations of laws and rights related to its principles governing economic development and their implementation. The above is our charge sheet. The Government submits a charge sheet when it is deemed that an individual has committed a crime. We too hereby prepare our charge sheet to put the Government up for trial.