Ranajit Manna, 58, has spent a decade ruing his fate. Once a prosperous farmer who owned 17 bighas in one of Bengal’s most fertile areas, now a farm labourer, Manna sat sprawled on the floor of a government office in Singur Wednesday, poring over paperwork that promised to somehow compensate for those 10 years.
Manna found it difficult to find the right words to describe a decade of being landless. Eventually, he tried to sum it up: “It was narak (hell).”
Ranajit Manna was one of those whose land was taken away “by force”. As a result, he and his son Shomnath Manna, 32, took to working as daily wage earners on other people’s farms. Although the Mamata Banerjee government’s scheme of subsidised rice did help the family to an extent, they have largely struggled in poverty, they said.
After the government began the process for application for compensation Wednesday, Manna landed up at the Block Development Office with a thick sheaf of papers that detail his claim to the land that had been with his family for almost a century.
The compensation being Rs 3.65 lakh per bigha, Manna estimates the cheque will come to Rs 62 lakh. But new problems have come up.
“The land is registered in the name of my grandfather, who is no more,” said Shomnath Manna. “Apart from my father, he has four brothers and five sisters. They were never interested in the land and weren’t part of the protests. But now that the state government is offering compensation, they have been coming up with bogus claims and trying to take off with our money.”
Farmers alleged that the government’s claims of everything being on schedule is far from true. Mapping and the plotting of Gopalnagar mouza within the aborted Tata Motors project has been completed, government sources said. Farmers have been asked to submit their applications for compensation cheques, which are likely to be sent to them in the next week, said officials.
“The issue isn’t if we are happy about the order. Of course we are happy, it is a moral victory for us,” said Rabindra Majhi, a farmer from Bera Beri. “But the question remains, what next? I, for one, will want industry in Singur. The land is no longer arable. But if there are industries, then there will be jobs for poor young children like ours. A delegation will visit Mamata Banerjee on September 12 to put forward our demands, two days before her rally here.”
A 400-square-foot dais is being set up near the plot for Mamata’s rally on September 14.
At the district administration headquarters, various plans are being discussed. A makeshift toilet is being built for the 300-odd dignitaries likely to attend the event. Work on dismantling a power substation adjacent to the plot started Wednesday, with the state government having decided that the matter would be put forward for the “public to decide”. Another section of the BDO office has been converted into a “cycle factory” in order to ensure that the CM can distribute bicycles to children, as part of the government’s scheme on the day.
But the question still looms: what next? Ranajit Manna put it simply, “I just hope that we will be able to live again in dignity. I can’t ask for anything else.”