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14 November, 2007

West Bengal government promoting organized crime

A woman injured in the Nandigram violene. Photo: Courtesy

The following is the text of a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on November 13, 2007

NANDIGRAM, a remote village in West Bengal state of India is once again in front page news in the country.

This remote village in West Bengal was in the news 11 months ago when violence erupted in the village. The Communist party led state government used force to silence the protesting farmers who were agitating against the proposed acquisition of their land by the state for establishing a special economic zone. The state government, with the aid of the local police and its party cardres, silenced the protest using brute force. The violence resulted in heavy loss of life and property, which is still not completely accounted for.

On 10 November, 2007, violence erupted again in Nandigram. This time too the violence was spearheaded by the party cadres of the ruling political party of West Bengal state – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM).

On the first instance and even now, the state government is defending its position of justifying the use of force. The only exception is that this time the local police remained confined to the police station when the party cadres shot at will on protesters. The death toll is yet to be ascertained and the villagers are in the grip of fear.

The state government on both occasions said that the use of force was to bring the region back within the control of the state administration. While debates are underway arguing for and against the state government and its actions, for an ordinary person the incidents reported from Nandigram raises a few questions. Had the state administration consulted the local people before it decided to acquire their land? If yes, whether such an acquisition is justifiable? Had there been any credible procedures and mechanisms in place to compensate those who could lose their land? If the administration had withdrawn from the proposal of acquiring the land what erupted the current tragedy? What prevented the administration from resolving the issues in Nandigram through legitimate means? Why did the state government employ party cadres to ‘repossess’ its control of the area? Was the ‘repossession’ for administrative control or an action looking forward to the oncoming local body elections? Even then what justifies the use of illegal force by party cadres? What happened to those who lost their relatives and property in the earlier incident? What will happen to those who suffered in the recent incident? Will the government and the justice mechanisms in the state be able to prosecute those who are responsible for loss of life and property? Which law in India authorise organised violence to curb protest?

Above all what is that matters to the state government of West Bengal – the people or the party?The government in any country or region has a constitutional obligation to promote and protect the life and property of the people within its jurisdiction. Whatever be the political ideology the government believes in or follows, such ideologies must not supersede the paramount law of the country – the Constitution. While the Constitution of India guarantees certain rights and privileges to the state administration, it equally guarantees the citizen certain rights, which the government by oath and mandate is bound to protect and fulfill.

Nandigram as of today is the sad reminder that the state government of West Bengal has failed in their duty. By justifying violence the state government has breached the inalienable constitutional guarantees of the people and has played fraud upon the people and the Constitution of the country. Such a government is promoting organized crime.

On these counts the CPM led West Bengal government is no different from its counterpart in Gujarat led by Mr. Narendra Modi. No one other than the West Bengal state government and their political think tanks and their supporters will concur with the idea of using organized violence to curb protest. A government which has played fraud upon the Constitution that it has sworn to protect and the people it is duty bound to serve has no legitimacy to continue in authority.

# # # About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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