June 07, 2015

WEST BENGAL: Statewide Road Blockade by Kisans

From Our Special Correspondent in Kolkata

THOUSANDS of peasants forced a shutdown of traffic in district headquarters for hours in West Bengal protesting against the policies of the TMC government and the Land Acquisition Bill of the Modi government.

Peasants in West Bengal are passing through an acute crisis for years now. They have been forced to go for distress sale of their produces, both rice and potato, for consecutive years. In the absence of public procurement, the peasants have sold paddy at much less price than their production cost. The state government had announced with much fanfare about opening kishan mandis, but very few of them are actually in existence. In most areas of the state, the public procurement is ridden with corruption. Potato growers have faced unprecedented crisis this season, with the price of the produce declining to as low as Rs 2 per kilogram. Potato-growing areas of Hooghly, Burdwan, Birbhum witnessed a number of peasant suicides. Co-operative system has virtually collapsed forcing the farmers to take recourse to moneylenders. Institutional machinery of crop insurance has also suffered as the state government defaulted in paying their dues. Large sections of farmers have stopped sowing this season, apprehending further loss.

The anguish of the peasants was reflected in the road blockade throughout the state on June 2. Four Left peasant organisations, including AIKS have jointly called for the blockade of roads leading to district headquarters. Thousands of peasants assembled at major gateways to district towns from 9 am. Despite severe heat wave, the peasants sat on roads, or encircled the major turnings. Traffic came to a halt in almost all districts.

In Khandaghosh in Burdwan, peasant leaders were attacked by TMC miscreants. They attacked Kisan leaders Kausar Ali and Akhtar Ali with axe, resulting in serious injuries. But, instead of backing out, the farmers were enraged by this attack and chased the attackers. This incident led to an instant blockade of Burdwan-Arambagh road. In Burdwan alone, thousands of farmers organised blockade in seven places.

In North 24 Parganas, more than 250 protesters were arrested from Barasat. Road blockade continued despite arrests. In Uluberia in Howrah, farmers gheraoed Sub Divisional Magistrate’s office and finally the administration assured them that procurement would be done. In Nadia, blockade at 20 places stopped the traffic on the national highway. In Hooghly, National Highway 2 (GT Road) was blocked for more than an hour. In Bankura, peasants seized the SDO office. National and state highways were blocked in northern districts too.

When the farmers’ protest was going on in districts, Left Front MLAs started a procession from MLA hostel in Kolkata. Wearing aprons with peasants’ demands, Left MLAs marched towards state assembly. Police blocked the march near assembly house but legislators forced through police barricades and reached the assembly. They raised slogans in the session in support of the peasants. Left Front members pressed for an adjournment motion on peasants’ distress but were refused. They staged a walk-out, raising slogans again. 

AIKS state president Madan Ghosh congratulated the struggling peasants for the massive response to the call of protest.