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Tata Pulls out of Singur but Struggle Continues for Rural Poor

Posted to the IUF website 13-Oct-2008

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Sustained protests by agricultural workers, sharecroppers and small farmers have forced Tata Motors to abandon planned production of its low-cost Nano automobile on prime farmland seized by the state government over 2 years ago in Singur, West Bengal, near Kolkota (click here for background). With the still unfinished Singur site under seige and over a dozen states competing for the project, Tata Motors on October 7 signed an agreement with the state government of Gujarat to locate production on land near Ahmedabad.

To read the press reports (Indian and international), the mass protests were hastily organized by the Trinamool Congress Party, opportunistically riding a wave of primitive anti-industrialism as the plant neared completion. But since May 2006, agricultural workers, sharecroppers and small farmers have resisted the state "Left Front" government's project to evict some 6,000 poor families from 420 hectares of farmland to make way for the ultra-cheap "people's car". The government, for its part, has not hesitated to label the grassroots leaders - including the IUF-affiliated agricultural workers' union PBKMS - as agents of US imperialism, becoming more strident in its calumnies as the movement showed its staying power and capacity for mobilization in the face of massive repression.

Tata has finally abandoned Nano production in West Bengal, but it hasn't abandoned Singur. The struggle continues, and it is important to set the record straight.

Neither PBKMS nor its trade union allies, nor the broad based (and rigorously non-party) Save Farmlands Committee which grouped the mass resistance are opposed to industry. All recognize the vital need for industrialization and job creation in manufacturing. The issues at the heart of the struggle have rather concerned democracy, transparency and the defense of agriculture and rural livelihoods. Once Tata Motors definitively declared that it was pulling out of Singur, the abundance of offers it received from rival state governments proved what the citizens of Singur have maintained from the outset: that it was easily possible to find a site for motor production which would not destroy productive agricultural land and the livelihoods of tens of thousands. Tata demanded and received 420 hectares, though only a tenth of that was required for the factory. The factory would have employed 2,000 workers, while many thousands of Singur residents still stand to lose their land and livelihood, including agricultural labourers, marginal peasants, sharecroppers, cottage industry and other rural workers.

Tata still holds the land, which was leased for a pittance, a fraction of what Tata is paying in Gujarat. The West Bengal government is insisting that the land must be used for industry, justifying their plans by the fact that a number of farmers have received financial compensation.

Singur's rural poor therefore continue their struggle for justice.

Farmers owning some 40% of the land seized for Tata have continued to reject conversion to industry and are refusing compensation. The proposed compensation schemes for sharecroppers and landless agricultural workers, the majority of whom are women, are ridiculously inadequate. And land on which industrial construction has already taken place must be restored for agricultural production. Safeguarding farmland from industrial pollution is also an urgent priority.

The Singur struggle offers a unique opportunity for democratic negotiation to determine the conditions under which farmland is utilized - as a public good, in defense of rights (including the right to food), or in defense of profit for the few. Historically, small producers and the landless have been ruthlessly eliminated, enclosed and expropriated using violence, physical and economic, to make way for industry and agribusiness. Singur now offers the possibility of a democratic alternative.

On October 14-15, a delegation from Singur including PBKMS will be meeting with the President and Prime Minister of India to present the case for government support for that alternative. PBKMS and the Save Farmlands Committee are demanding:

You can support their struggle - now and in the days to follow - by clicking here to send a message of support to the federal government of India. Copies will automatically be sent to the government of West Bengal and to Tata Motors.