The West Bengal government may have officially blamed Maoists for instigating farmers’ agitation and violence in Bhangore on Tuesday and have denied charges that police had resorted to firing, resulting in the death of one villager and injury of at least three others.
But reliable sources, close to chief minister Mamata Banerjee, said she has pulled up DGP Surajit Kar Purakayastha as she received reports that the police had indeed resorted to firing to disperse the violent crowd.
The sources also told Observe 24×7 that a furious Banerjee exploded in front of her close associates saying she would seriously consider removing state horticulture minister Abdur Rezzak Molla from her cabinet as she also held him responsible for the violence at Bhangore.
When Mollah called Banerjee over telephone to inform her of the latest situation, she reported told him, “Where are you? Why haven’t you gone to the spot? You are the MLA from Bhangore and it is your responsibility to pacify the people.” Rezzak, however, failed to reach the troubled spot, as angry villagers refused him entry.
Mollah, who was elected from Bhagore, had openly opposed former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattachraya, when the Left Front government had attempted to acquire land at Singur, Nandigram and also at Bhangore. Mollah was then the land reforms minister of the Left Front government, which lost power to the Trinmool Congress in 2011.
The agitation at Bhangore, peaceful till Monday, began nearly six months ago, after the government decided to set up a power grid. The Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) began constructing the Rajarhat 400/220 KV, SF6 gas insulated substation and 450MW transmission lines, to transmit power between West Bengal and Purnia in Bihar.
Agitation spread in the villages of Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga, Tona, Gazipur and other areas in the Polerhat 2 Panchayat in Bhangar Assembly Constituency after 16 acres of fertile agricultural land were acquired for the project.
Villagers alleged that they were misled as they were told that a power house would be constructed and that the transmission lines would pass along the road sides and not over farmland. Their suspicion grew when transmission towers were constructed on their fields.
The Jami-Jibika-Bastutantra-O-Paribesh-Raksha Committee, which was leading the protests, also opposed the use of greenhouse gas Sulphur Hexaflouride and possible health risks posed by generation of electromagnetic field, once the transmission line became operative. They also alleged that farmers had not been paid adequate compensation for land and that Trinamool goons had forced the farmers to part with their land.
As the agitation gained momentum, the police began arresting activists, stoking further anger. On December 22 the villagers brought out a huge rally in Kolkata to protest against construction of the power grid. They felt let down after the governor refused to meet their delegates.
The agitation at Bhangore has come as a major embarrassment for the Mamata Banerjee government. The Trinamool Congress had come to power in West Bengal on the basis of its prolonged agitation against Left Front government’s attempts to acquire agricultural land for industrial and infrastructure projects. Now a similar agitation against land acquisition challenges the Trinamool government.
Senior Trinmool leaders also feared that the agitation could seriously dent the party’s Muslim vote bank as Bhangore is a predominantly Muslim area. Also, the agitation, police firing and the death occurred at a time Mamata Banerjee was attempting to play a larger role in national politics by intensifying the movement against demonitization, they observed.