Day: March 18, 2007

"Eminent Domain" Police Firing Update

I had written recently about police firing deaths in West Bengal. It appears that there is a lot more to this story than a case of police overreaction.
BBC NEWS | South Asia | Ten held over India police firing

But there are suspicions that outsiders may have joined the police force to attack the villagers in Nandigram, protesting against the planned acquisition of farmland for an industrial complex.

The West Bengal government has now said it is abandoning the project.

“Outsiders”? That’s informative! Who might these “outsiders” be? More from an Indian source:

The Central Bureau of Investigation -, probing last Wednesday’s Nandigram deaths in police firing, Saturday recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition from Khejuri, a base of the Communist Party of India-Marxist -.

Ten people, presumed to be members of the CPI-M, were arrested by the probe agency during the operation.

The CPI-M is West Bengal’s ruling party, having been in power for more than thirty years. So the emerging hypothesis is that some “operatives” (read goons) from the ruling party decided to “help” the police clear out the protesting villagers. The tragedy has gone national because the CPI(M) is a supporter of the ruling coalition in India.

It’s a complex issue, one that I want to learn a lot more about. But the gist of the story is that the ruling Communist party in Bengal is trying to kick start industrial development that has been stagnant for many years. The Haldia Development Authority has been tasked with this rather difficult task, and has been going about its merry business trying to acquire land and setup industrial parks and so called special economic zones.

The issue here is not the idea, which is sound, but the process, which has been top-down, and designed and implemented with no input from the people who will be affected. Some level of increased industrialization will provide more infrastructure, jobs and money eventually. But the process needed to be planned so that the farmers affected could transition a little more easily from their generations of farm employment. Medinipur, the district where Nandigram is located is predominantly agricultural with 65% of the rural population working as farmers (source Indian Census 2001). There are nearly 6 million people involved in agriculture in this district alone. That’s an arkload of people who will be affected by a major change in the occupational profile, they need to be considered and consulted.

So when the people affected protested and took the site over, the Chief Minister of West Bengal,  Budhaddeb Bhattacharya, asked the police to clear them out, and I guess they took that literally.

These protests are spreading, with unrest in Orissa as well. The good news is that there’s been a lot of outcry, and the whole program has been put on hold pending a national policy on acquisition of land for industries. India is not China, people know how to organize, protest and generally make themselves heard. More importantly, the press will cover stories like these (at least for a few weeks, or until India loses to Bangladesh in the Cricket World Cup! – This happened on Saturday!), so development necessarily takes a slower and more tortuous path. That is not always a bad thing. Will they get the process right the next time they do it, I am not sure, but hopefully, these deaths will not have been in vain.