Singur farmers break Tata factory wall, clash with police

June 27th, 2008 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Aparajita Gupta
Singur (West Bengal), June 27 (IANS) A large group of peasants held protests at the Tata Motor’s factory here in West Bengal Friday, demanding that the firm give them jobs or return the lands acquired for its small car project. As protesters brought down a portion of the factory wall, violence erupted. The police had to lob teargas shells and baton charge the mob to bring the situation under control near the Tata Motor’s factory in Singur, a 40 km drive from Kolkata, on a day top Tata Motor officials, including managing director Ravi Kant, were visiting the facility in Hooghly district.

On a visit to the troubled spot at Khaserbheri village, the IANS correspondent saw a 8-10 feet breach in the compound wall that had been brought down by villages using rods and pick-axes.

West Bengal police Inspector General (Law and Order) Raj Kanojia told IANS in Kolkata that around 150 agitators had collected at different points near the factory, slated to bring out the world’s cheapest car Nano in October.

“They started throwing stones at the police who went there to maintain law and order. The agitators were chased away,” Kanojia said.

District police sources said they were forced to lob tear-gas shells after a baton charge prove futile. Two constables were injured in the clashes.

“The situation is now under control,” a district police official said.

Many farmers in Singur have been agitating for two years under the banner of the opposition Trinamool Congress-led Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (Singur Save Farmland Committee) against the car factory coming up on multi-crop lands, which they claim the government has forcibly acquired.

Such has been the discontent among the locals that the Trinamool bagged 15 of the 16 gram panchayats - the lowest rung of the state’s three-tier governance system - in Singur during the rural executive polls in May.

A total of 997.11 acres was acquired by the government across three panchayats - Gopalnagar, KGD and Beraberi - that comprise the project area.

Mahadeb Das, a resident of Khaserbheri village, rued that the government had taken away his 3.5 acres of land. “I had two mini tubewells and a poultry. I was also building a ceramic factory. They have taken all that I had”.

Das, like many others who lost their land for the Tatas project, has not taken the compensation cheque from the government.

“The Tatas and the government had promised us plenty of jobs and alternative modes of employment. But very few have got jobs. So we were shouting slogans, demanding that the government give us jobs or return our lands,” said another villager.

“I was beaten mercilessly by policeman,” said a woman who was seen writhing in pain due to a leg injury.

Villagers said 10-15 people started demolishing the wall to protest Ravi Kant’s visit.

“The police beat them up. We were then few in numbers. After news spread of the police assault on us, about 150-200 villagers gathered. Police reinforcements also arrived and there was a clash between the police and us,” Das said.

“Then the police first rained lathis (batons) on us, and then lobbed tear-gas shells,” Das said.

Around 300 extra policemen were deployed in and around the factory Friday in view of Ravi Kant’s visit.

Singur Krishi Jami Raksha Committee convenor Becharam Manna said: “We will continue our agitation throughout the day.”

The Committee activists blockaded the busy Durgapur Expressway, but Ravi Kant managed to elude the protesters by taking a detour. The managing director took rounds of the factory, including the paint shop and the engine shop, but did not speak to the media or protesters.

Nano, a 623 cc car with a 33 horsepower multipoint fuel injection petrol engine, was unveiled at Auto Expo 2008 in New Delhi Jan 10. The company said it would initially produce about 250,000 Nanos and it expects an eventual annual demand of one million cars a year.

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