After crossing Howrah Bridge, descending and passing the tunnel, we catch a train. The train leaves from Howrah, there is a train workshop in Liluah, and many factories, many iron factories, I don’t know them exactly but there are iron factories, roof casting work – I mean, in Liluah, Belur… they both have factories. Then from Bally, the village feeling begins, empty expansive fields begin. Recently, beyond Liluah, Belur, Bally and Belanagar they broke down some ponds to establish fish nurseries. And newly in Dankuni… the railway land there was low-lying, didi [Mamata Banerjee, state’s chief minister] got it filled and she started new railway factories in the area. After this, there is Jonai, where there is coal gas, Bharat Coal Gas – that factory has been there for long. After that, there are just empty fields, where people live by farming, different kinds of farming. There are no more factories on our line, the Bardhaman cord line. After Bally is Belanagar – Belanagar is half-town, half-village, that begins there. They dug up the low-lying lands there, so there’s fish cultivation; it used to be practiced earlier too, but they’ve done works newly, after which fish cultivation is on. You can see that next to Belanagar station. From there, they have done another line that goes to Sealdah. The two lines cross then, there is the Sealdah line – it was there long ago and it had been closed, now that has started again: one can go from Howrah to Sealdah on that train. Didi made an announcement, saying that some trains pass there, two or three, from Howrah to Sealdah. She made an announcement and started that line again.
Then there is Gobra, in Gobra there used to be spacious fields, now many people from Kolkata are buying land and building houses around that area. Then on small fields, you’ll see new factories being built, also hotels – you can see them from Gobra station or Dankuni…
How comes there are all these developments there?
People are buying lands from promoters and building their own houses there; it’s all happening between Gobra and Dankuni. After Gobra is Jonai station, where there is Coal Gas. After that, there are empty fields, farming lands. Jonai, Begumpur… there are small factories there, handloom factories: they make handloom cloth in the villages – these arn’t big factories, these are in the village, small factories.
How do you know, have you been there?
No, I have not been to Begumpur but I know people who go there to weave handloom saris. Nowadays, there are some small factories in Baruipara too, which I don’t know: small factories, with around 20 workers – they make jewellery, not gold but gilded jewellery. In many places, someone rents houses and teach boys to make bangles and such things. These go abroad: small elephants, horses, they make all these things in these factories. There is handloom cloth production in Begumpur and Baruipara, I’ve heard, where people say they are going to learn work, to make bangles and these things. Once they’ve learnt, they go to Delhi, Bombay, and there they can easily find work.
After that, after Baruipara, you have Mirzapur, a cultivation area. There, they produce foreign liquor; everybody makes liquor in these villages, we have seen that as this is often transported in drums by train from Mirzapur. It is a distillery drum, people come and take it and transport it to Bardhaman.
Between Haripal and Nalikul, the Marwari [specific Indian community] have built a station, Malia. At that station, the Marwaris… they give the pilgrims, only them, free tea, shikanji juice for free – we have a dharamsala here too, before the post office; it also belongs to the Marwaris. So at night, they take lorries from here and transport self-made cake, laddoo [sweets], kachuri [snacks] for the pilgrims. They come and go at night, only on Saturday and Sunday; everybody gives a free contribution. There are various places where the Marwaris have bought the places and made dharmasala for pilgrims whom they provide services, food, assistance – or if someone is hurt, they’d provide medicines…
You mentioned Liluah, Belur, Bally… are there factories after those towns?
Yes there are factories in Liluah and Belur, but after that, you don’t find anymore; there are mills on the main line. There was just one incident with the Tata Motors factory in Singur on this side, which did not work out: a movement formed there around the land – I mean, for a katha of land [land measurement unit = ca. 67sqm] the then government had said that they would pay Rs 15,000; that is why the farmers created a movement [compensation was too low], and they got the support of the party in power now, Mamata Banerjee. On that land, you can cultivate three crop cycles, that’s why, they grow a lot of potatoes, paddy, ladyfingers, etc. on that land: after the arrival of mini cultivators and deep-wells, that land’s productivity has grown a lot. That is why the farmers protested.
Can you tell me that when the government decided to take land Singur and not in any other area?
Here, the communication is very well-developed: there is the main railway line and a big bus route to Durgapur – going there from Howrah takes even less time than by the train with which I travel; it is a widely-spaced road. They took the land from the Durgapur route, I mean, the land needed for the factory. One can sell a katha of land for 50-80,000Rs there, but that government chose to pay only 15,000. It designed a uniform price for all the different lands there, whether raised or low-lying. Then the government said it would give them a separate set of benefits, but by the time, the issue had reached such a stage where the farmers were protesting loudly, and Mamata Banerjee had also lent her support to them, so they were all the more encouraged.