Commission's order on Nandigram issue - New Delhi Feb 08, 2008.
The Government of West Bengal proposed to set up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and a chemical hub in an area covering around 10,000 acres in Nandigram Block-1 and for that purpose it proposed to acquire land. On 28th December, 2006 Haldia Development Authority circulated an informal notice showing the likely location of the project. The local people resented the proposal for acquisition of land. Violent clashes broke out between the supporters of the party in power i.e. CPI (M) and the Bhoomi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) - an organisation to channelise the protest against the proposed land acquisition. From the middle of January, 2007, a large area covering 5 gram panchayats of Nandigram Block 1 was isolated and police and other Government agencies were prevented by the supporters of BUPC from entering the area. About 2000 people, believed to be supporters of CPI(M), were driven out and they took shelter in the adjoining area across the canal within the jurisdiction of PS Khejuri. On 14th March, 2007, the State Government tried to reestablish its writ in the area by force. The attempt of the police force to enter the area was violently resisted by supporters of BUPC at two places and the police opened fire at the mobs. 14 persons were killed in firing and 300 people including 52 policemen sustained injuries.
The police firing on 14th March, 2007 was widely condemned in the media and the Commission took suo motu cognizance of reports published in the "Asian Age" and 'Indian Express'. Case No.872/25/2006-07 was registered. The Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal and DGP of the State were asked to submit factual reports. Accordingly, a report dated 29th March, 2004 was received from the Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal.
The High Court of Calcutta also took notice of the incident and held that the action of police to open fire was unconstitutional. It directed CBI to take up investigation of police firing and related cases. It also directed the State Government to pay Rs. Five lakhs each as compensation to the families of the dead, Rs. One lakh each to the injured persons and Rs. Two lakhs each to the rape victims.
On 19th March, 2007, the District Magistrate of East Medinipur issued a notification to the effect that the State Government will not acquire any land for industry in Nandigram. In spite of the notification BUPC did not withdraw the agitation. The police was still not allowed to enter the area. Sporadic incidents of violence continued to occur in the following months till October, 2007.
On 27th October, 2007, the State Government sent a requisition to the Central Government for deployment of CRPF in Nandigram and adjoining areas for 3 months. On 5th November, 2007, the Central Government sent a reply that it was not possible to provide CRPF in view of the pending Assembly elections in several other states.
On 6th-7th November, 2007, the CPI (M) cadres overran the blockade with the help of outsiders and criminal elements. Several road blockades were organised by CPI(M) supporters and access of outsiders to Nandigram was stopped by them. During the period from 6th November to 12th November 7 persons were killed, 32 persons including 16 police personnel sustained injuries and several houses were fully or partially destroyed. A large number of villagers (nearly 2500), believed to be supporters of BUPC were driven out and the CPI (M) supporters who were displaced earlier returned home. On 11th November, 2007, the Government of India ordered deployment of 6 companies of CRPF. On 12th November in the evening CRPF personnel made a flag march in the area and normalcy was slowly restored.
Regarding the incidents which occurred from 6th November, 2007 onwards Shri Sanjay Parikh has submitted a petition. He also forwarded to the Commission a message received from Smt. Medha Patekar and requested for urgent intervention. The Commission took cognizance of the petition and case No.725/25/2007-08 was registered. Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal was directed to submit a factual report within10 days. A team of the Investigation Division was deputed to visit the disturbed areas in Nandigram and study the situation. Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India was also requested to take such steps as may be necessary to retrieve the situation in Nandigram.
Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal submitted a report dated 3rd December, 2007. The report reveals that 560 houses were completely damaged and 399 houses were partially damaged in the incidents which occurred from 6th November, 2007 to 12th November, 2007. It further states that the State Government has decided to pay Rs. 10,000/- for each fully damaged house, Rs.5,000/- for each partially damaged house and Rs. 1,000/- per affected family for utensils and household goods. It has also been stated in the report that sanction for ex-gratia payment in accordance with the orders of the High Court, is currently under process.
The investigation team of the Commission visited Nandigram in very difficult circumstances and when the situation was very tense. Communication with the local people was also difficult being still under the trauma of riots and violence. The team after overcoming these difficulties set out on their task and has done commendable job.
According to the report of our Investigation team, the entire episode can be considered in three phases:-
3rd January, 2007 to 14th March, 2007
During this phase, the state police started losing control over law and order situation in the area of Nandigram. The people lost trust in the police and they feared that the police would help the state agencies to take forcible possession of their land. The villagers were instigated by different political parties to fight against the Government policy. Under the umbrella of BUPC, the people laid a seige over a large area covering 5 gram panchayats in Nandigram Block-1 and did not allow the police and some other state agencies to enter the area as they seemed to have lost trust in either of them. On 14th March, 2007 the police force tried to enter the area and when it was resisted by the local people it opened fire resulting in the death of 14 persons and injuries to several others.
15th March to 5th November, 2007
This was a period of comparative lull. As a matter of fact it may be described as the period of calm before the storm. During this period the local administration issued a notification on 19th March, 2007 declaring that the State Government will not acquire any land in Nandigram for industries. Still the agitation by BUPC continued. Not only the blockade of the area covering 5 gram panchayats in Nandigram Block-1 continued but BUPC was able to extend its influence to other areas in Nandigram Block-2. This period was also utilised by CPI(M) supporters for stock piling of arms and ammunition and mobilization of man power including anti-social elements across the canal in the area of PS Khejuri. The State police remained a mute spectator through out.
On 6th November, 2007, the CPI(M) supporters overran the blockade and tried to "recapture" Nandigram. The police outpost at Tehkhali was withdrawn late at night on 6th November, 2007 and thus the attack by CPI(M) supporters was facilitated. The investigation team of the Commission has reported that the location of the Tehkhali outpost was of strategic importance as it was the dividing line between the CPI (M) dominated area and the BUPC controlled area. The Investigation team has reported that the approach of the police was totally partisan during this period. The team also found a CPI (M) flag hoisted at the police bunker at Tehkhali.
Since the State Government does not appear to have discharged its primary obligation in preventing the attack by CPI (M) cadres on 6th November, 2007, it should bear the responsibility for the loss of life and property following the attack. It is suggested that the next of kin of the dead in these incidents and also the injured persons should be compensated in the same manner as directed by the High Court of Calcutta for the victims of the incidents of 14th March, 2007. The compensation that the State Government proposes to make for damaged houses appears to be quite inadequate. The Commission considers recommending enhanced compensation for fully and partially damaged houses. The Enquiry Team of the Commission has reported that after the incidents of 6th November, 2007 several houses of BUPC supporters have been occupied by CPI(M) cadres and they are now claiming to be owners of those houses and demanding compensation. The Commission considers it necessary to appoint a Committee to suggest compensation regarding damage that occurred and to ensure that the monetary relief does not fall in wrong hands and it reaches the genuine persons. The Committee shall consist of Shri A.K. Jain, Secretary General, Shri D. Sarangi, Special Rapporteur and Shri A.K. Garg, Registrar.
For the unfortunate incidents of Nandigram neither CPI (M) nor BUPC can escape their share of responsibility. In this context it is necessary to make a few general observations:-
(i) The police and the bureaucracy should keep themselves aloof from political influence. Alignment with the party in power results in erosion of public trust which leads to avoidable misery.
(ii) The party in power should always be alive to its constitutional obligation to rule without favour and prejudice. It should never encourage or connive with the illegal activities of its supporters.
(iii) The opposition has a right to highlight the failures of the Government and to educate the people about the policies which it considers harmful. While it may take recourse to peaceful agitation, it should in no case encourage people to indulge in unlawful activities.
(iv) There should be a continuous dialogue between the party in power and the opposition and such dialogue should always be motivated by a concern for the good of the people at large.
(v) The press has a pivotal role to play in a democratic set up, therefore, it should always adopt a balanced and unbiased approach in reporting the events. In the case of Nandigram the Press did a commendable job by highlighting the atrocities on people but it failed in its duty to emphasise that the blockade of a large area of Nandigram by the agitators was unconstitutional.
(vi) Whether agricultural land should be acquired or not for industry or projects like SEZ is a moot question. Agriculture being the only source of livelihood for the farmers, compensation in terms of money for acquisition of their land may not be adequate. In the process of rehabilitation of such displaced people as a result of acquisition of land, the Government should take the local people into confidence and it should also ensure alternative means of livelihood and shelter for the displaced. Whether in addition to monetary compensation, any other land can be given to relocate or can be linked to the project for which the land is acquired by allocating adequate number of shares and providing employment to at least one member of each affected family and similar other measures may be considered. The agriculturists may not be in a position to appropriately or wisely invest the money received by way of compensation. Necessary steps may have to be taken by the Government to appoint advisors for making right investment.