Taking agricultural land for industrialization has been the dominant narrative of development in the 21st century, especially in the developing countries. In this context, the story of Singur in West Bengal’s Hooghly district stands as a striking example in reversing the trend.
A leading car manufacturer in India started their plant (a manufacturing plant for a small car) in a census town named Singur in Hooghly district in the Indian state of West Bengal, in the year of 2007 after the acquisition of a 997 acres (4.03 km2) of farmland. The small car worth around $2500 USD scheduled to be roll out of the factory by 2008. Since then the small place has gained international media attention.
Due to this large takeover of such a fertile agricultural land, soon after the acquisition and during the initial phase of the plant construction time, a strong protest started. This was leaded by the opposition party and accompanied by few social activists, NGOs and farmers. Though government tried to facilitate the construction activities, but protests, hunger strikes etc. continued.
These massive disruptions forced the company to move out from Singur to set-up the unit in some other place.
The abandoned factory evolved a big question gradually, what would be the future of the acquired land and more importantly how the farmers who gave their land will survive?
In 2016 the Supreme Court asked the state government to return the land to the original owners within 12 weeks. Following this order, the industrial structures were dismantled piece by piece and by 2017 Singur was back to its agricultural roots.
A new chapter opened when government started dismantling the shades, pillars, walls, machineries, constructed roads everything to wipe out the conflicted project. The objective was to bring back the same agricultural land with all its productive capability, quite a challenging task indeed. Huge amount of money has been spent to execute this entire process. Government has done a mammoth job to identify the correct demarcation of lands for all the owner and distributing the same to them accordingly.
Singur has revealed a rarest of the rare incident in the history where industry has been dismantled to bring back agriculture where the world has countless examples of the reverse.
However, questions still remain. Is the land cultivable yet? What is the socio economic impact of this on the farmers?
As a documentary photographer, stories with a different narrative interest me. The story of Singur interested me because this is a story of an intriguing conflict between different forces of the society – agricultural, industrial, and political. Being someone who lives pretty close to the place I ended up visiting Singur numerous times and captured the drastic changes that these stream of events has brought to this land and the people who live there.
by Gourab Guha