The Indian Economy Blog

December 11, 2006

Shallowness of the West Bengal Land Reforms

Filed under: Agriculture,Economic History — Gaurav Sabnis @ 1:28 am

Ever since I first read about the Singur controversy, a bee has been buzzing in my bonnet. It finally bit. Six months ago, I had written a post about how the TATA Motors decision to set up a plant in West Bengal was disastrous. However I wrote that post merely from the labour trouble perspective. Why did I not realise that trouble would start right from land acquisition? Because, like several others I bought into the oft repeated “fact” that the Communists have carried out widespread land reforms in West Bengal. So I actually thought, believe it or not, that West Bengal is one place where the Narmada-type or Posco-type problems would probably not be repeated.

But it turns out that I was wrong in thinking that the Communists have done at least one good thing – land reforms. Singur gave me an opportunity to read more about the land reforms in West Bengal. And after reading about it, I have come to realise that the land reforms are a sham. They were at best, a short term quick-fix solution, with absolutely no long term respite for the poor farmers.

I am a big supporter of land reforms. While some of you may find this paradoxical given my libertarian beliefs, I insist it is actually consistent. Yes, I believe in the sanctity of property rights. But only when the property in question is rightfully the owner’s. However I am not convinced that the massive landholdings of the zamindars can be thought of as their rightfully owned property. If you go through the history of India, most of the land has been distributed by Kings or rulers, i.e the “state” of that time, to these zamindars. That is, it was grabbed by force, and then distributed to a select few. The reason its ownership was given to a select few was for ease in tax collection. It is easier to collect tax from 1 zamindar owning 100 acres with a 100 farmers working on it, than from 100 farmers owning 1 acre each. This gave zamindars a lot of power.

Specifically in Bengal, the zamindars used to be only tax collectors. But the Britishers, to collect taxes more efficiently, conferred ownership rights to the zamindars under the Permanent Settlement Act, vastly multiplying the zamindar’s power. Thus the land held by most zamindars at the time of India’s independence, was theirs because of a legislation of convenience.

In other words, the status of land ownership in 1947 was a legacy of several acts which trampled on property rights. So setting 1947 as the zero on the graph does not make sense for a new country.

This country should have seen massive land reforms to right historic wrongs. The land owned by zamindars should have been redistributed among the peasants working on those lands. And most importantly, these peasants should have been given individual ownership titles to the land. Individual ownership titles are very important. It is the difference between owning a home and having a long term lease on a home. It gives you clout, a say, and a voice. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Zamindars had a lot of clout, and land reforms were not carried out. Under Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, several zamindars voluntarily gave up land to be redistributed. But even in this movement, following Gandhian principles, the focus was more on community ownership rather than individual ownership.

Coming back to West Bengal, during the 1977 elections the commies promised the voters land reforms. And keeping their promise, they carried out Operation Barga. However, is this really land reform? I don’t think so.

Here’s something about Operation Barga that Amit sent me yesterday(taken from here) -

In 1978, the government launched Operation Barga, a programme that has now recorded the names of approximately 15 lakh bargadars and educated them about their cultivation rights, thereby raising their economic and social status. The state changed the landlord-bargadar relationship in two fundamental ways.

First, through anti-eviction measures, the landlords were largely prevented from forcibly throwing the bargadars off the land. In fact, the bargadar rights were made hereditary and thus perpetual.

Second, the state guaranteed that the bargadars would receive a fair share of the crop (75 per cent if the bargadar provides the non-labour inputs and 50 percent if the landlord provides those inputs).

West Bengal ‘s land reform legislation does not directly attempt to turn the bargadars into landowners. However, the legislation includes two provisions intended to facilitate that conversion from bargadar to landowner. The legislation gives bargadars priority rights to purchase the barga land if the landlord decides to sell such land.

(emphasis mine)

I am not saying the land reforms were bad. They prevented evictions of the bragadars. And they ensured them a substantial share of the crop. But by not turning them into land-owners, the government still accepted zamindars as the owners of the land. By not giving the bargadars any property rights, they did not empower them sufficiently like land reforms should have.

And therein lies half the root of the Singur problem. Most of the large land-owners are happy to sell the land because they think it is a good deal. But the bargadars, who were given no ownership rights, are being screwed over. Their livelihood is being snatched. And because they dont own any property, they lack the bargaining power. Because the land reforms in West Bengal, while doing a lot of minor good, fell well short of the main thing – giving property rights to the poor farmer over the land he cultivates.

Greatbong in the comments of the post here says -

My question is if my company was taken over by say Microsoft and the company reorganized the workforce and fired me then I would be in the same position as these landless labourers. Their “company” has just been bought out and re-organized.

Ah, but it is not the same as a company. A company is set up by its owners, by arranging for capital on their own. The employees are being paid for their efforts. They do not have a greater say. And I agree, in accordance with the capitalist system, they shouldn’t have a say. But the land owners here don’t have the same rights on the land, as Bill Gates does over Microsoft. They were just given the ownership by some rulers out of convenience for tax collection. They were just in the right place and the right caste at the right time. So a bargadar should have a say in whether the land should be sold, as opposed to an employee of a company, who shouldn’t. To prevent this kind of a mess, bargadars should have been given ownership titles to the land they tilled. 

It is another matter altogether than even land titles might not have helped in Singur. A majority of the farmers in Singur are small land-owners, some of whom might own land, others who might have bought off portions of the land using the provisions of Operation Barga. So even these rightful owners of the land they cultivate have been forced to sell their land by the government because of eminent domain. Thanks to the 44th amendment of the Indian constitution in 1978 which removed right to property from the list of fundamental rights. And here’s an interesting tidbit which I also learnt from Amit. This decision was taken by the Janata government because the communists asked them to do so in return for their support in the 1977 elections.

Which brings us to an oft-repeated theme on my blog. Just like the right to freedom of religion is essential for the survival of secularism in this country, the right to property is essential for the reduction of poverty. Leftists and their utter disregard for the sanctity of property rights has hurt the rural and urban poor people of this country the most. Narmada was one chapter. Singur is another chapter. And urban slums are yet another chapter. And such chapters will keep getting added in our country’s history for as long as the Government is not made to take radical steps to ensure the sanctity of property rights.

It will be a more pro-poor move than a dozen employment guarantee schemes.

My sincerest thanks to Amit and Ravikiran for their inputs used in writing this post

Crossposted on Vantage Point

39 Comments »

  1. [...] Gaurav Sabnis argues that incomplete land reforms in West Bengal has led to the mess in Singur. [...]

    Pingback by DesiPundit » Archives » Sham Land Reforms? — December 11, 2006 @ 4:35 am

  2. How long does it take to launder the taint from ill-gotten capital?

    Isn’t 214 years enough?

    The trick seems to be to steal enough so you can afford better lawyers than the people you stole from (see Microsoft, etc.).

    Comment by alphie — December 11, 2006 @ 4:59 am

  3. Alphie…..what????

    Comment by Gaurav — December 11, 2006 @ 6:23 am

  4. Sorry if my post was cryptic, Gaurav.

    According to your link, the zamindars were given title to the land in 1793, or 214 years ago. You seem to be saying that because this act was “illegal” or perhaps “morally wrong,” they shouldn’t actually own the land now.

    Yet many current companies and family fortunes were founded on the proceeds from illegal or immoral acts. In America, for instance, slavery, land grabs from Native Americans, government corruption, bootlegging during Prohibition, etc. founded some of our wealthiest families and companies.

    Poor Americans would benefit somewhat if this wealth was redistributed to them just as Indian farmers would benefit from the title to the land they work.

    Is there something special about these Indian farmers, or are you a closet lefty :)

    Comment by alphie — December 11, 2006 @ 6:59 am

  5. Hi Gaurav,

    Good point. I don’t want to thread-jack this since your point remains valid — that better land reforms might have meant less trouble at Singur. But I can’t resist getting into a debate on libertarianism and property rights. :)

    You say:
    A company is set up by its owners, by arranging for capital on their own. The employees are being paid for their efforts. They do not have a greater say. And I agree, in accordance with the capitalist system, they shouldn’t have a say. But the land owners here don’t have the same rights on the land, as Bill Gates does over Microsoft. They were just given the ownership by some rulers out of convenience for tax collection. They were just in the right place and the right caste at the right time.

    Fair enough, Microsoft is Bill Gates’s, rightfully; he started it, built it, developed it, etc. But suppose Gates dies tomorrow and his son, say X, (does he have one?) gets Microsoft. And then years later, Microsoft gets into trouble with large-scale retrenchments, do the fired employees have a say? The same reasons that you gave for the zamindars not being the rightful owners of the land, will apply here,to Bill Gates’s son, no? After all X just inherited Microsoft from his Dad — is he then the “rightful” owner? My argument would be that he is, since Bill Sr. built Microsoft, nurtured it, etc so that he could someday pass it to his son. After all, that’s one of the main functions of families — so that benefits roll over to the next generation.

    Here’s my point. Like you, I think land reforms are necessary, and the reason is what you mention in your post: to right a historical wrong. But they are not consistent with libertarian principles, simply because redistribution infringes on someone’s property rights, one way or another and also because there is simply no way to determine how “right” someone’s ownership of something is. Tax-and-redistribute policies cannot do everything of course — since they go against the moral principles of capitalism — but they should have some role, a small one, simply because they help us right historical wrongs.

    Comment by shreeharsh — December 11, 2006 @ 7:09 am

  6. Alphie has a good point — how long back do we have to go to find what’s rightful and what’s not?

    Comment by shreeharsh — December 11, 2006 @ 7:31 am

  7. So if the Bargadar’s have a first right of refusal in the event of a sale, how exactly was the land acquisition performed. What are the legal steps the govt took? Anyone knows? Same would basically be the question for practically every infrastructure project in WB afer operation Barga, that involved land acquisition (read every project).

    Comment by Corporate Serf — December 11, 2006 @ 7:40 am

  8. Posts like these give libertarians a bad name

    Comment by Spiff — December 11, 2006 @ 10:02 am

  9. Gaurav, Alphie’s got a point, I’d say. You write that property rights are valid “only when the property in question is rightfully the owner’s.” Well, isn’t that open to interpretation? Who decides that, on what grounds?

    Shreeharsh, I think Gaurav’s point about the difference with MS is that in this case, the bargadars have been promised that a) they can’t be kicked off the land, b) a perpetual revenue split and c) first right of refusal in case of sale. MS Employees don’t have all that. So there is an effective breach of contract here.

    Corporate Serf, note that Bargadars, according to the sources I’ve looked up, constitute around 25 to 30% of the affected farmers at Singur, and the main issue there is of eminent domain. I’m assuming the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was used for the purpose. Also, note that many Bargadars, over time, did a deal with their landlords by which they got ownership of a portion of the land in return for giving up barga rights over the rest. This would have suited both the owner and the bargadar, and would have converted many bargadars into small landowners themselves.

    Your specific question, though, I can’t answer. I’d be glad if someone would!

    Comment by amit varma — December 11, 2006 @ 10:20 am

  10. What is the stand ? Land should be acquired or not be acquired ? Do simple calculations – 1000 acres of land means 2.5 crore of annual agricultural output. ( More than 25000 per acre is very difficult to achieve ). For this land , the govt. has paid 10 lac per acre or a total sum of 100 cr. At 6% interest , it comes out to 6 cr per annum – which is about 2.5x the annual revenue generation potential of that land. At 50 rs per day per person , this can support 1400 people or 250 families. I am sure , Tata Motors will generate much more unskilled and skilled employment in Singur for the displaced local land-less farmers. Look at the company’s track record in various cities their plants are present – Jamshedpur is a classic example..
    I want to know if you are for the acquisition or against it ? Or you are just latching on to the political rhetoric ?

    Comment by Anshu — December 11, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  11. Gaurav,

    Interesting background. I am not sure why you thought Commies were for property rights? The whole point of the movement, globally, was to destroy private ownership to create a utopia (with few tyrants as masters).

    But beyound that, you make the case that either Bargadars buy the land, to in turn sell to TATA (or use for some other purpose), or they have no claim to the land.

    But TATA should pay both parties. Because the Zamindar has ownership but has only 25% claim to income; Bargadars have claim 75% income but no ownership, TATA should offer 75% of present value of all potential future income to perpetuity from land to the Bargadars and pay 25% of present value to Zamindars. TATA can fix both problems in shot and might even come out looking good from this sorry episode.

    Finally, this kind of claim to income without ownership can only be devised by our own utterly dumb socialist policy makers. Isn’t ours the lucky nation!

    Comment by Chandra — December 11, 2006 @ 11:22 am

  12. Hi Alphie,

    one of the basic princples of Property rights is that the owner
    has every fundamental right to dipsose or will it to anyone he
    deems fit. So Bill Gates son (if any) will be legally and morally
    entitled to his father’s estate. No one can force or lecture a
    owner about the way he should dispose of his hard earned wealth.

    And Rajaji and Swathantra Party fought hard aganist socialism
    and statism. Pls read his writings about land reforms ; there is
    a crucial difference between zamindars and ryotwari owners of
    land. while zamindari system was rightly abolished, the socilaistic
    govts of indepenedent India tried to grab the lands of ryotwaris
    in the name of rural land ceiling act. it resulted in fragmnetation
    of agriculture land and inefficent farming methods. and the poor
    farmers could not get a good price since corporate farming was/is
    not allowed ; and yield could still be bettered if this sector is liberalised.

    Comment by Athiyaman.K.R — December 11, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

  13. And as i am from Chennai, TN, i request TATAs to shift their
    new car company from W.Bengal to our Tamil Nadu where land
    and skilled labour is easily available, with a freindly govt
    and no hassles from communists ! Ford and Hyundai are doing
    well here.

    or they can consider Pune.
    and let the Bengalis keep their land for agriculture.

    Comment by Athiyaman.K.R — December 11, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

  14. alphie, shreeharsh, you raise interesting point. How far back do we go to right the wrongs? It’s a tricky question for me and my feeling in this case is it should have been done. But yes, the logic put forth by me is not watertight. Need to give this some more thought.

    Anshu, I am not in favour of any “acquisition” because it implies lack of options. I am completely in favour of a “sale”. All the numbers you have given should be and must have been presented to the small farmers. If they still don’t want to sell the land or want a higher price, then it is their decision which should be respected.

    Chandra, good idea.

    Athiyaman, Thanks for the Rajaji tip. Are any of his writings on land reforms available online?

    Comment by Gaurav — December 11, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

  15. Gaurav,

    see http://www.rajaji.net/Rajaji-Original/frame.html

    Rajaji courageouly fought a lone battle against
    Nehruvian socialism in the heydays of socialism.
    He founded the Swathanthra Party in 1959 along with
    Mino Masani and others for this purpose.

    Athiyaman

    Comment by Athiyaman.K.R — December 11, 2006 @ 9:27 pm

  16. Yes, I know about Rajaji. In fact the electoral decline of the Swatantra Party is one of the reasons that makes me think we as a country deserve the bullshit statist set-up we are stuck with. There were options and we were too dumb to choose the right ones.

    Comment by Gaurav — December 11, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

  17. Thanks a million for the link. it is a gold mine.

    Comment by Gaurav — December 11, 2006 @ 10:01 pm

  18. Couldn’t agree with you more on Rajaji. Couldn’t agree less on land reforms.

    Incidentally Rajaji was not the greatest fan of Land reforms, if I remember correctly (I am not sure will check con debates). And Swatantrata Party was perhaps the only one to publicly support and uphold property rights.

    While I agree that something doesn’t seem right about the Zamindars owning masses of land how do you think land ownership began in the first place? Britain was largely feudal, as were eastern masses in the US, are they still feudal or did they have land reforms?

    I am a lawyer (soon to be), I look at property rights and ownership and possession in real disputes as opposed to using them in punchlines (I am not insinuating you did). And I have seen that recognition of property rights and respecting them (even when they seem unreasonably) is the only way to live in a civilised free world.
    Ownership is based on title and possession. Ideally with rule of law the title won’t be acquired by satisfying the whims of some king, but that’s not what this is about.

    I think eminent domain is theft as is land reform so let me explain with examples of theft.

    A owns a watch. Z steals it, its called theft because its protecting ownership.
    A owns the watch, he gives it to B to wear for the day. Z steals the watch from B. It is still called theft because theft is a crime against possession.
    Z who has stolen the watch is wearing the watch, M steals from Z. Is it theft? Yes. Is it theft only because M didn’t know Z stole it? Would it then cease to be theft if we all, and M, knew that Z stole it?

    Point is even if the watch is stolen Z must be protected from theft. His theft is dealt with differently as he is charged with a crime punishable or compensatory.

    While this example illustrates the difference between ownership and possession and may seem disconnected from land reform it isn’t.

    Is it OK to subvert property rights when the zamindar is a despot? Does it then cease to be OK to subvert the right when the zamindar is good to the tiller? Will we recognise Zamindar’s rights if he was a genuine entrepreneur and not if he got it under permanent settlement act?

    I think if we live in a sane society, the whole zamindari thing wont happen in the first place. But just because it did happen will we subvert property rights? And if we do subvert property rights look what happens! Many more POSCO’s and Singurs are in the making. 198 acquisitions across India of varying sizes for SEZ’s. They are happening not because of Marxists losing their flavour, but because the law permits them to. The same land acquisition laws which allowed land reforms and nationalisation of banks (sort of…not land acquisition but property rights)!

    I get where you are coming from but I certainly don’t agree with some of it.

    Comment by Shruti Rajagopalan — December 12, 2006 @ 12:30 am

  19. You’re right Shruti. It is ironic that the same legal amendments made to enable land reforms and take land from the big guy to give it to the small guys, are now being used to takeland from the small guys and give it to the big guy.

    Sreeharsh, Alphie, Amit and you have given me a lot to think about. Hmmmm.

    Comment by Gaurav — December 12, 2006 @ 4:05 am

  20. Yes, Britain was feudal too. But it did not need land reforms because it industrialised, employing the masses, and leaving agricuture to a proportional population. India flawed policy combining heavily regulated and state-led industrialisation, along with a romanticised notion of our economy’s agrarian component, is what forced most of our population to still be in villages sweating out in the fields.

    The answer wasn’t land reforms. The answer was real capitalism (as opposed to crony capitalism).

    Thanks everyone. Has helped me correct a flaw in my line of thinking.

    Comment by Gaurav — December 12, 2006 @ 4:11 am

  21. Shruti, another thing I forgot to consider was the statute of limitations. What is it in for stealing?

    Comment by Gaurav — December 12, 2006 @ 4:17 am

  22. I think this post seems to oversimplify the issue of land reform by adopting a tone which suggests that you have a solution.

    Do you have a solution to the Singur problem?

    Comment by swamy — December 12, 2006 @ 4:45 am

  23. Couple of points:
    # I agree that it is a difficult question to figure out at what point we decide that it is too much of a bother to correct historical wrongs and just regularise them. I suggest two generations as an optimal rule of thumb. If we start regularising wrongs committed a generation ago, then it gives people to commit wrongs to that their children will benefit. But carrying out restitution for a wrong I commit through my grandchild is not going to deter me and it will end up pointlessly punishing him
    # BUT, the zamindari system is more complicated than that. The zamindars weren’t just landowners – they were effectively tax collectors acting as deputies of the British rulers. If you think of them as legitimate owners, then it is wrong to deprive them of land. If you think of them as feudal rulers, then of course, there is no place for them in a democratic society. In a feudal setup it is really impossible to demarcate the two roles. So effectively, it is a grey area.

    Comment by Ravikiran — December 12, 2006 @ 5:42 am

  24. Gaurav- First, real capitalism is based on property rights and freedom to contract. Having land reforms and law which don’t permit farmers to sell agricultural land are a big blow to both. So we need to go back to the basics for real capitalism not complicate more with bad laws. Second, criminal charges are not barred by law of limitation. I meant theft as in the IPC.So I think law of limitation won’t apply. Was that your question?

    Swamy- I do have a simple solution to singur problem. Reinstate fundamental right to property and abolish land acquisition act. Then we would be back to what is known as “takings clause”, government only takes land for roads, railways etc. We won’t see anymore POSCOs and Singurs.

    Ravikiran- OK maybe some zamindars weren’t legitimate owners? What do we mean by legitimate? Then the kings who owned the land and gave it away are legitimate owners? Or do you mean the British? Or the tiller (who from the minited history I have read was never really much of an owner). So between these 4 tdifferent parties who should decide on ownership? If it were a watch it wuld be the courts…why should land reform be different? My question is…….why does the government get to decide if some of the ownership is bad. It happens all the time with tenants and trespassersm does the government go around each day ensuring the rightful owner gets it? Or do we approach the courts? Why should this case be different.

    Undoing past and commiting to an agenda like land reforms is like the argument favouring reservation for undoing the caste system! It doesn’t take one anywhere if we subvert property rights on one hand and equality on the other!

    Comment by Shruti Rajagopalan — December 12, 2006 @ 10:09 am

  25. Hi Shruti,

    As a lawyer can you clarify the following :

    As a minority shareholder of BPCL or HPCL (oil PSUs),
    can i sue the management or majority shareholder (ie
    the govt) for delibrately selling the petro products
    at a loss (malafide intention) and the compaines are
    bleeding. if the govt wants to check the petro prices
    then they should not have disinvested a part of its
    shareholding in oil PSUs. Will a PIL be admitted in the
    SC ?

    i had mailed this idea to the HQ of Reliance and Essar ;
    and probabaly it was junked ! if they are smart they
    can intiate a PIL on behalf of a minority share holder
    of BPCL or HPCL. Both Essar and Reliance are bleeding
    in the oil refineing and marketing buisness as the govt
    is selling below cost….

    Athiyaman

    Comment by Athiyaman.K.R — December 12, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

  26. and unless the oil cos are viable, there
    will be a terrible shortage of petro-products
    in future as new refining capacity will not
    be added and existing one will be obsolete
    and weakened furthur due to mounting losses.

    Govt should reduce the taxes (some 54 % of the
    price is tax) on petro products and allow oil
    cos to operate profitably. the defict in govt
    revenue should be brough into the budget and
    only by reducing overall expenditure can the
    deficts be wiped out. for e.g Defence budget
    is a whopping 90,000 crores plus a year and is
    growing….

    Comment by Athiyaman.K.R — December 12, 2006 @ 1:32 pm

  27. Shruthi, isn’t that a question I can turn around and ask you too? At the turn of independence would you have considered the princes of all those princely states as “owners” of really large territories?

    You must realise that we do not disagree on all that much. I do not agree with land ceilings. I do not agree about restrictions on sale of land. But the zamindari system is a problematic case.

    Comment by Ravikiran — December 13, 2006 @ 1:49 am

  28. Here is an interview with Brinda Karat of CPM about Singur,
    where she clarifies the stand of WB govt :

    http://www.hindu.com/2006/12/13/stories/2006121303421100.htm

    Comment by Athiyaman.K.R — December 13, 2006 @ 8:56 am

  29. Gaurav Says
    “The answer wasn’t land reforms. The answer was real capitalism (as opposed to crony capitalism).

    Thanks everyone. Has helped me correct a flaw in my line of thinking. ”

    Dear Gaurav,
    I Anonymous Coward, hereby request you to add a P.S or an Addendum to your original post stating that the right solution would be full liberalisation and not Land Reforms. For someone who reads only the post and not the comments might think that Land reforms are good which in reality is very bad.

    Comment by Anonymous Coward — December 13, 2006 @ 11:17 pm

  30. Economic analysis of any issue of this kind will start assuming some given distribution of land. While the logic behind this given distribution remains political.
    Earlier such desisions were settled by force,now they are being addressed through vote.
    The problem is that though the voting system is considered relatively better, it is still immpossible to arrive at efficient desicion through it. You may please reffer Kennith Arrows impossibility theorm.

    Comment by Kiran Patil — December 20, 2006 @ 4:33 pm

  31. The Singur issue need further indepth study.
    It is agreeded thet the sole couse of this type of trauble is bssically due to land reform proble.
    But we must remember that there are other causes also.
    We have already lost seven lives. Is is necewssary if I want to protest against any issue raised by ruling party (or the Government) by violence? What are the other methods available? So call Gandhian theory has proved to have no effect. Land reforms needs a long procedure which will take tome. Let us call for a nation-wide discussion for the procedure of land reform.

    Comment by Subrata Sengupta — January 12, 2007 @ 11:05 pm

  32. Interesting that West Bengal and India have numerous land laws and Land reforms were necessary. However
    more recntly the West Bengal Govt.added the Thika Tenancy and regulation act 1981 by which any leased land small or big on which the occupier has constructed structures that land would be vested in the State Govt. Even if the land was legally purchased and legally leased. The Cal.High Court struck down certain portions of the act and stated that only Bustee (slum ) Land and Khatal Land could be vested. The Govt.appealed to the Supreme Court and when after many years it came up for disposal it repealed the act and in its place enacted the Thika tenancy regulation act of 2001 thus in one stroke
    sending all the litigants back to the High Court.
    Oil Companies to whom the lands were leased have refused to vacate stating that the Govt.is now the landlord. Since 1981 all the rents are taken away by the State Govt.
    While in Singur the land was given to the Tatas here the land is being given to the rich oil companies.
    Are we also not citizens ? Is this fair ?

    Comment by ashok gupta — January 30, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

  33. The West Bengal government distributed land a couple of decades ago, Since then the population has grown a lot thanks to migration from the UP and Bihar (two states which Bangladesh, Orissa and Jharkhand (all non commie lands). Plus there has been a natural increase too. So now there are more people for each acre of land than before (for data on migration check the India gov census over last two censuses).

    Amongst the landowners there are three kinds – one set is willing to give up their land as their children do not want to be in agriculture. Many of them are in business or have jobs in the cities.

    The second set is unwilling because they are perfectly happy with their holdings and life.

    The third set is on the fence. They realize that the Tata factory will result in huge rise of real estate prices. They want to reap that benefit which is an intelligent decision (but bad for the state).

    But these peaple are not the problem. The major problem is coming from the non land owners – mostly migrants (from other states or districts) or excess population since the last land distribution.

    The Naxalite-BJP-Trinamool combine took advantage of the situation and created a law and order problem involving the landless. However with the government promising to pay them compensation, the movement has kind of fizzled off. Mamata has promised to put her agitation on track but it seems most of the contracts and work for construction have gone to Trinamool party businessmen and workers.

    Plus Ratan tata threatening to expose the company behind the agitation has kind of taken the wind off the BJP-TRinamool alliance.

    Comment by Soham Roy — April 11, 2007 @ 9:29 am

  34. Welcome to the 21st century. This automobile plant will create a huge employment opportunity. The increase in capital for the local people will create an opportunity for them to afford better housing,food,clothing,ect.It will cause further construction projects, homes , local stores,roads, you name it the sky is the limit. Happy day God bless you.

    Comment by Richard — January 12, 2008 @ 3:03 am

  35. Folks,
    I happened to bump on this discussion and I must admit that I am really stuck. There are many facts about landless labourers and people losing their land which cannot be ignored. But there are too many facts outside that part which has took over west bengal in communist age.
    I have been a part of it because I am born and brought up in Kolkata which is still my favourite city. But few knows that there are people in West bengal who lives on even less than 20 rupees a day. Surprised? I have seen people who happens to be in supervisor position and gets Rs 1800 in 2004 with a 20 years of experience. Please dont think that he was a below performer. He is one of the best employees. I have also witnessed people retiring with a salary of Rs 4000. He was a diploma engineer and really had a profound knowledge. Just for information very recently in Haryana labour department has started to enforce that no labourer should get less than 3500 a month. A skilled labourer in Haryana earns more than Rs 8000 a month including overtime.
    But surprisingly people in West Bengal were examples of happy people in whatever way they are. But the misery had to have its effect and it did. Go to every colonies and you can see scores of unemployed young guys sitting together and discussing the most intellectual issues of life yet doing nothing worthwhile. Extortion was at its maximum. It was clearly evident when someone wants to build a house or wants to start a new business. He will find lots of young guys approaching him for easy money and threatening gestures. He have to generously donate to the club to the guys beyond his limit to stay afloat. One fine day he finds that it is too much to handle and he shall close his business. The guys who where employed with him again find themselves unemployed. Gaurav, I have been through this and all I said was not from any textbook or fact book but from my very own experiences.
    It is not possible for small business and cottage industries to support such a huge pool of unemployment how much may the communist dream of an equal society. There has to be big guns to be in the state to effect a change. There has to be some step in line with the growing world economy. The land reforms act may had been effective at the time it was implemented. But for huge industries it is not possible to use 1 or 2 acre. That has to be more. If that has to be more then the effect is bound to fall on some area. But the compensation can be negotiated, discussed and even increased to satisfy people losing their lands. That cannot be done by throwing bricks and cutting roads to stop the government reach but by meetings and negotiations. What a wonderful politics is played by our opposition in state! Nandigram flares up even after declaring that no land aquisition shall take place. People were driven out of their homes by their very own neighbours because they support another party. Whenever somebody dies in police firing people curse police for being barbaric. A very recent firing at Dinhata saw 3 police barricades broken. Yet the concerned party claimed that the procession was peaceful. How can a peaceful procession break 3 barricades of police unless they are enough violent? Policemen are human beings like us. They get beaten up by mobs has to fight them off and even dies in the process. When they shoot in self defense they are marked as barbaric. Next they are in detail scrutiny why they had to resort to firing. Half of the people dies in firing because police cannot take aim at the lower part of the body when using his rifle. Firing to disperse a mob is done shooting in air not by shooting at the mob. By that time however a 20 kg brick bat finds his face. Even then he do not shoot because he knows consequences. But mobs has other brilliant ideas as holding the rifle and hitting the police with another hand that holds a brick. Folks, dont feel that these are imaginative tales. These are practical experiences shared with me by a policeman.
    I wonder about the deep slumber people are in. I leave to all my learned friends here to draw conclusion from this but we all expect something to change as unemplyment in West Bengal is second highest in the country.

    Comment by Sunny — February 7, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

  36. land less farmer may engaged in Tata’s and other subsidery factory and that should be confirmed by local goverment body.

    Comment by U K Mondal — April 12, 2008 @ 5:30 pm

  37. Dear All,
    I find this Blog to be very interesting, after reading your Land reforms in WB, I can just say one thing these Communist Party has ruled this state for more than thirty years the passive attitude of the Bengalis (I myself a Bengali) have killed them. Huge influx of Bangladeshis through a porous border have made a demographic change in the bordering districts of Nadia, Murshidabad, Dinajpur, North 24 Parganas.It the rampant corruptions of giving voters ID card and ration cards to these illegal immigrants.

    The prosperity of a state depends up on the quality of people the human capital, I can say west Bengal has now got the poor human capital may be one step ahead of Bihar.
    All window dressing of West Bengal State Government for last thirty years. Mr. Buddha Bhattacharrya of late is behaving with little maturity, I must say he has been able to convince personalities like Mr. Premji, Mr NRT , who is doing a little bit investments in West Bengal.Tata Motors’s NANO will be a great success, Tata’s knows how to
    get things done. Do you remember Mr. NRT’s interview with NDTV, some vested interest were there to stall the TATA motors small car project. May be by their competitors in the sub US$3000 car segments, in an emerging economy like India can be a stupendous success? Any investments will have a Marco Economics Multiplier effect and can break the vicious circle of poverty; another news today morning I read Mr. Nirupam Sen is talking with BMW, Germany, requesting them to do some investments in
    his state.

    With Warm Regards

    Comment by Debashish Bramha — April 12, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  38. Dear All,
    I read all the postings in this blog with avid interest and finally came to the end. First of all, two minor corrections. Operation Barga in West Bengal is totally different from the Zeminadari Abolitions part of land reforms. Initial land reform measures aimed at zeminadari abolition but subsequently it spread to expropriation of land of the big and medium sized ryots. So much of land reforms programmes cannot be supported on the argument of correcting the wrongs of creation of zemindari. Operation barga is like the rent control and housing tenancy act. As by some bizarre logic house tenants got permanent rights over tenanted house by law and as it generated tremendous housing problem in cities by choking down real estate investments, in the similar fashion Operation Barga gave permanent rights to the land tenants. Effects of such land reform measures are equally damaging as they stop investment in agriculture and work against the spirit of capitalist development. Massive rural poverty in WB where the hunger rate is maximum among states in India is partly due to this land reforms. Recently there is an article in EPW which has shown how land reforms have adversely affected Kerala’s development as well. Incidentally WB and Kerala bore the major brunt of land reforms.So in the hindsight Rajaji was right.
    Second minor point is that rights to property as a fundamental right was deleted from constitution not by Janata Party but by Congress under Indira Gandhi in the hey day of socialism in the 70s. Since there was no Rajaji then and no Indian politician or intellectual to listen to people like Friedman and there ware socialists like JP at the cult figure Janata party negated many things of 42nd amendment but left the deletion of property right unchanged. Constitution still has the socialist tag about which there should be a protest movement by those people who understand the value and need of property right.
    Coming to Singur the solution was simple. Leave the question of getting land to Tata themselves. As I have to fend for myself if I want to start a small business and govt. will not locate and donate me the land, they should not have done this for Tatas either.
    Actually the WB communist rulers do not undrstand the dynamics of capitalism. Some investors showed interest in investing in WB during 2004 -2007 because this was the period when World was riding the crest of hyper growth. Moreover steel industry has been passing through a boom and therefore given the locational advantage of WB in this regard some investment in steel sector would be forthcoming. ( More will come to Orissa and Jharkhand). But WB rulers started thinking that they were creating this industrialization. They do not know that if Govt can create industries and generate development on their own, then every country would have been highly industrialized and developed because every country has government. Without recognising the importance of market, human rights of freedom and property they try to bulldoze their autocratic plan by political arm twisting – with tremendous misery for the affected people. Will these commies ever learn the importance of individual liberty, property right or ever remain subjected to megalomaniac thinking that only we are the repositories of knowledge and all others who think differently are fools.
    Tusar
    Tusar Datta

    Comment by Tusar Datta — July 5, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  39. So if the Bargadar’s have a first right of refusal in the event of a sale, how exactly was the land acquisition performed. What are the legal steps the govt took? Anyone knows? Same would basically be the question for practically every infrastructure project in WB afer operation Barga, that involved land acquisition (read every project).

    Comment by Mack — October 14, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

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