The Vedic Village Scam

Ugly and Tragic Culmination of the Social Democratic Model of Development

(Abridged version of an article by Partha Ghosh published in Deshabrati, 17 September 2009, with additional inputs from Rajarhat comrades.)

A local level football match played on 23 August at a place called Shikharpur under the Rajarhat Police Station near Kolkata eventually erupted into a tumultuous incident beset with a high degree of political drama. The controversy apparently broke out on the issue of a disputed goal which decided the fate of the match. The losing side, reported to be sponsored by a local land mafia, Gaffar, popularly known as ‘Land Gaffar’, started throwing bombs at the supporters of the winning side followed by firing, in which one of the local youths died. This enraged the local people who set on fire the nearby luxury resort ‘Vedic Village’ alleging that the miscreants responsible for the bombing and killing were provided shelter in that resort. A large part of the resort was razed to the ground by the fire, but the political heat which the incident generated is showing no signs of mitigation thereafter.
In the face of popular unrest, the police had to arrest the Managing Director of the resort Rajkishore Modi, his employee and accomplice Biplab Biswas, and ultimately, Gaffar Molla with his miscreants in arms. The statement which Gaffar Molla made before the police and subsequent revelations of a land-acquisition scam point to a deep-rooted malady in the body politic of the state.
The Vedic Village episode has exposed many a skeleton in the cupboards of the Left Front government as well as the ruling CPI (M), the principal opposition Trinamul Congress (TMC), and also some other ruling class parties. The genesis of the scam dates back to the period when the stewardship of the state was in the hands of the veteran Jyoti Basu, the much touted model CM. In fact it typifies the polity of the state adroitly built up under the left rule, right from the days of Jyoti Basu to the current reign of Buddha.
The Vedic Village scam has come in as a logical continuum in the series of episodes which started with Singur and Nandigram. It has gone deeper in exposing the real story behind the current strategy of industrialization-urbanization that is being employed in West Bengal. This issue has become the most sensational talking point in the state in the post Singur-Nandigram scenario, laying bare the nexus of the ruling combine of CPI (M)-TMC-Congress et al, the lumpen industrialists, the police, the administration and the criminals, which is at work behind the so called industrialization-urbanization and which has given birth to a new breed of virulent land sharks. Unabated eviction of peasants from fertile lands, preponderance of the illegal arms trade, indiscriminate use of arms to threaten the unwilling land-sellers, and rampant flesh trade to satiate the debauchery of the lumpen businessmen – all these have been going on in the name of industrialization-urbanization. The coming up of the entire Rajarhat-New Town satellite township symbolizes the deprivation, forceful eviction and oppression of the poor villagers as well as the phenomenon of ‘criminalization of politics’ and ‘politicization of criminals’, which is what West Bengal is today.

Behind the Garb of Development

It was in 1995, the last phase of Jyoti Basu’s regime. 7000 hectares of agricultural land, water bodies, and homestead land comprised in 21 Mouzas were acquired by the West Bengal government in the Rajarhat area by invoking the colonial Land Acquisition act of 1894 (Ref: Land and Land Revenue, No. 2787 LA (2) 4 H 11/94 Housing) (See Box-I). According to a primary estimate, around 2,50,000 people residing in the area were either evicted or were otherwise adversely affected.
Naturally, the peasants and the fishermen were not prepared to accept the forcible land acquisition lying down. They formed resistance committees under the name of ‘Rajarhat Krishiraksha Committee’ and ‘Mahishbathan Jibikachyuta Bekar Samity’. The peasants who refused to part with their land were subjected to severe repression. The result was the Sulangari massacre in which 21 people died. The Rajarhat-New Town township was built at the cost of the lives of at least 50 poor people. The land mafia and their goons took possession of Mouzas after Mouzas by wearing a ‘red ribbon’ on their heads. The women peasants tried to resist by lying down on the ground only to meet with brutal repression.

“According to the government announcement, more than 1,13,000 people belonging to 40 villages would be evicted to provide residence to 5 lakh people. 6,170 marginal peasants, 2,105 small peasants, 4,605 landless peasants, and 4,000 fishermen would be thrown out of their traditional professions practiced for generations. The number of land losers has increased much over the last 4 years and the number goes on increasing everyday”–“Eviction in West Bengal: a Note” by researcher Keya Dasgupta, (Mrittika Prakashan, p. 178.)

According to one of the land losing peasants, Fakir Mahammad, “…Jyoti Basu said, some people at Dhalipara have agreed to sell their land, you also agree to do the same…If you lose land we will give you jobs, four wheelers. You will be given the contract of supplying sand, mortar and cement when buildings would come up in New Town.” But where are they now? In Fakir’s words, “Some people got a good amount of money and some got less by selling their lands… They lost their land and the money too. What will they do now? Some became building painters, some masons, and some became labourers engaged in carrying bricks. The peasants of the villages of Rajarhat were thrown into a state of extreme misery” (quoted from a booklet entitled “Rajarhaat - Uponogorir Ontorale Arto Manusher Kanna [“Rajarhaat – The Satellite Township and the Tears of the Tortured” published by our party)

Illegal, Unethical Land Transfer

Simultaneously with the construction of the satellite township by evicting lakhs and lakhs of peasants at Rajarhat-New Town, lumpen industrialist Rajkishore Modi and company built up a sex tourism-cum-country club named “Vedic Village” at Shikharpur just outside the satellite township area under the “Bhangar Rajarhat Area Development Authority (BRADA)” during the period between 1997 and 2002. Call girls from across the world began to gather at Vedic Village to entertain the high profile customers under the very nose of the administration. As the resort flourished, the requirement of land increased and a new land grab drive was unleashed at gun point with the help of Gaffar Molla and his goons. Although the original project was developed on 44 acres of vested land taken on lease from the state government, the area of land presently under occupation of the resort is around 150 acres. All the remaining land has been illegally occupied by the resort owner by flouting the land ceiling Act. Moreover, eye brows have also been raised over the state government’s decision to lease out vested land for construction of the resort rather than distributing the same exclusively among the landless peasants having less than 1 acre of land as required in Section 49 of the Principle of Distribution of Land.
Incidentally, the work of the second satellite township started under BRADA by forcibly acquiring 33,000 acres of land in 23 Mouzas, 15 in Rajarhat and 8 in Bhangar. Resorts like Vedic Village, Olive Garden, and other sex tourism centres came up within the second township. Rajkishore Modi initially purchased 10 acres of land at Shikharpur with the active help of ex-Rajyasabha member of CPI (M) Sarala Maheswari, her near relative land-shark Kamal Gandhi, Pijush Bhagat et al by launching a fake company named Sanjibani Project and similar other companies. Arun Maheswari, husband of Sarala, is the owner of Olive Garden and Kamal Gandhi, the kingpin of the land grab, is closely related with the CA of Jyoti Basu, Jaykrishna Ghosh. The Sanjibani Project applied for mutation of the land before the Rajarhat Block Land and Land Reforms department and the same was instantly granted. Thereafter, on receipt of complaint of illegal acquisition of land by Sanjibani Project, the Land and Land Reforms department found in 2003 that the company had acquired 76 acres -- far exceeding the ceiling limit of 24 acres. In January 2003, the L&LR department vested the excess land measuring 52 acres, against which the company went to the High Court. The HC directed that the character of the land could not be changed. But in a joint investigation carried out by the representatives of both, the government and the company, it was revealed that the character of the entire 76 acres had been changed in violation of the court’s direction. The state Land Department filed a contempt petition against the Sanjibani Project and its associates. The latter sought an apology before the court, but soon filed a separate suit against the vesting order in the Land Tribunal. The Tribunal dismissed the petition on 30th September, 2003.
But to the utter surprise of all, the government issued an order on 4 May 2004 declaring that in case of inadvertent purchase of vested land by any person, the government may lease out the same to the said person. The Government Order (GO) was clearly tailored to suit the interest of the Sanjibani Project and its associates and the government entered into an out of court settlement with them. In 2006, 44 acres of the vexed vested land was leased out to the Sanjibani Project and associates at only Rs. 3,670 per cotta, costing in all Rs. 97.36 lakh, whereas the DM of 24-Parganas determined the value at Rs.5 crore. Moreover, the Vedic Village authorities themselves have sold land at Rs.50,000 per cotta at the very same place.

CPI(M)-TMC – Criminals in arms

Thus the unholy nexus between the West Bengal government and the Vedic Village authorities in the matter of illegal acquisition and transfer of land is all very palpable and conspicuous. The Housing Minister and a very powerful CPI (M) leader of the locality and also one of its CC members, Goutam Deb has pleaded ignorance about the extent of land held by Vedic Village and also the manner in which the same was acquired. But the entire thing happened under the very nose of the state government and the BRADA, which has CPI (M) MLA Rabin Mandal as its Chaiman and the sitting MLA - Arabul Islam of Trinamul Congress - as one of its members. All BRADA members are persons handpicked by the Minister Goutam Deb, who apparently tried to associate representatives of all the ruling class parties in the state in the illegal land grab exercise.
As many as 19 fake firms under the name and style of Stone Mercantile, Zion, Square Commerce etc. were floated by Rajkishore Modi and company to carry on the illegal land business and flesh trade. They resorted to fake deeds, fake mutation and forced eviction to grab hundreds of bighas of land. Behind all these activities are the goons from all the ruling parties including the CPI (M), the TMC and the Congress. Apart from Rabin Mandal, Rekha Goswami, Minister from CPI (M), the present Trinamul Congress MLA from Bhangar, Arabul Islam and his brother ‘Khude’, Rajarhat’s ex-MLA Tanmoy Mandal of TMC (who was an SFI leader in his student days and who was recently expelled by Mamta Banerjee in an attempt to show that the incumbent MLA is innocent), were also intimately associated with the misdemeanors perpetrated by Modi and Co. Each local leader of all the ruling parties is, somehow or the other, part of different ‘Mafia Syndicates’ operating in the area. With liberal patronization from Goutam Deb, these Syndicates have continued the illegal land acquisition drive with impunity. Gaffar Molla-Kelobabu et al are replicas of Suhrid Datta-Debu Malik (CPI(M) leader and activist charged for the murder of Tapasi Malik) of Singur. The state government and the police forcibly acquired land for the Tatas at Singur and Suhrid Dattas were their accomplices. In Rajarhat, the state government leased out vested land to the Modis while Gaffar-Khude-Arabul and Co. assisted the Modis in acquiring land from the peasants.

How things developed:
The inner party reality of the local CPI(M)

1.     Since the Left Front government’s coming to power for the second time in 1982, the mass organizations in the CPI(M), especially the DYFI, began to take a new dimension with mass enrolment of youths taking place irrespective of their social standing.
2.     As a result of mass induction of youths in this forum, a large number of them began to organize themselves in a platform with common economic relations. A common economic tie was developed among the leaders of the party, the developers, the land brokers, contractors etc.
3.     The youths of other political organizations also began to pour in.
4.     By 1987, with the mass exodus of the rank and file, practically all the opposition parties lost their relevance in the area.
5.     With the notification for acquisition of land for the new township project coming into effect in 1994, most of the influential leaders of the opposition joined hands with the leaders of the CPI (M) entrusted for forcible acquisition of agricultural land in the mutual interest of both. With the opposition parties joining hands with the party in power, things became very easy for the latter to combat the lone opposition from the agrarian masses with the help of musclemen and police force.
6.     With almost all the land having been acquired and with the fresh acquisition drive meeting with stiff resistance from the people of the locality, especially at a place called Hatiara, an intensive debate started within the Zonal Committee of CPI(M), which forced the Zonal Committee to suspend the acquisition drive. But soon after, the local leaders who questioned the forcible land grab were inducted into the Urban Development Committee relating to Rajarhat, thus silencing their voice.
7.     Sensing strong inner party debate, particularly from those who still adhered to the basic class orientation, almost all the party units were made defunct and new leaders, who approved the anti-people policies of the party, were inducted. This was followed by repressive measures on the sincere and honest party workers, curtailing their influence in the party and turning them into inactive lots. Some of them have either been suspended or expelled from the party or forced to surrender their party membership.

8.       Thus with the entire political opposition on their side, the process of acquisition and forcible eviction of peasants from their lands was silently removed from public sight.

Not only in Vedic Village, the state government planned to develop an IT Park measuring 1200 acres through a joint venture (JV) with Rajkishore Modi. The Vedic Village authorities formed a fake JV company named ‘Vision’ together with the state PSU Webel. The Standing Committee of the State Cabinet on Industry, having CPI (M) leaders like Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Nirupam Sen, and Surya Kanta Mishra as its members, decided to acquire 1200 acres for Vision. But what followed was forcible acquisition of land at gun point. It was decided that 600 acres would be handed over to Vision and the rest 600 acres would be used for construction of an IT town. The money which was used for the purpose of acquisition of this land is reported to constitute the Rs.200 crore worth of fund embezzled from the share market.

The Farmers Resist

The Farmers of the area have put up a brave front against all the atrocities perpetrated by the ruling syndicates. They formed “Rajarhaat Krishi Roksha Committee” to thwart the onslaught of the CPI(M) goons. This organisation was not under the control of any political party even though at times some of the members approached the Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee asking her about her apparent indifference to this struggle of the common people. On one occasion, as many as 30,000 signatures were submitted to her, requesting her intervention. They were given to understand that she could take up their cause only if the organisation agreed to identify itself with her party, something the farmers could not accept, with the result that they had to continue their fight without any political backing whatsoever.
However it became quite apparent later on why it was not possible for the TMC to extend support to the farmers’ organization. Many in the TMC leadership were closely involved in the land grab exercise and became complicit in the whole process. Around this time another organisation came up in the Thaakdanri and Mahishgoth region which was constituted by the people rendered jobless by the land acquisition process and they have a membership of over two hundred and fifty.
The mass attack on the Vedic Village on 23 August was the logical culmination of simmering rage developing in the minds of the farmers of the region over the years. The Vedic incident exposed the true colours of the ruling parties and thus underlined the need for a left assertion built on the premise of genuine left values and an uncompromising class struggle.

CPI (ML) Fights the Vedic Scam

A protest demonstration against the Vedic scam was organised in front of the Rajarhat police station on 11 September. The meeting was addressed by the party's West Bengal state secretary Partha Ghosh, 24 Parganas district secretary Subrata Sengupta and other leaders. Some of those who have lost their lands presented their experience before the public gathering. A memorandum was also submitted at the police station. Main demands included: CBI enquiry into the scam; immediate end of all land acquisitions; sacking of Urban Development Minister Goutam Dev and Land and Land Revenue Minister Rezzak Molla; unconditional release of seven persons arrested earlier for participating in agitations against land grab; arrest of ministers, panchayat office bearers, party leaders and others involved in the scam; monetary compensation to the family of the person who died on the day of clashes on the football ground (23 August). The programme and the preparatory propaganda that was carried on in nearby areas prior to it evoked very enthusiastic popular response. The day before the protest meeting, organizers of the meeting went to the villages of Rajarhat to campaign, and met many people who narrated their experiences of eviction and forcible land acquisitions. Some of them attended the meeting in front of the Rajarhat Police Station the next day.
A street-corner meeting demanding punishment for the protagonists of the Vedic scandal was organized by the North 24 Parganas District Committee of CPI(ML) on 13 September at Madhyamgram Crossing. Subrata Sengupta, District Secretary, addressed the meeting.