Vedic Village: A long history of brutality behind the final destruction
Posted by Admin on September 6, 2009
Recently, Vedic Village, an upscale resort sprawling out in Rajarhat (near Kolkata), was torched down by angry villagers. This vent of public anger was the culmination of a history of brutal land acquisition in the area, perpetrated since the 1990’s by the CPI(M) and brought to fruition by armies of local terrors like Gaffar Mollah, Ruidas Mandal, and others. The following articles trace the recent history of this real estate-Party-musclemen nexus that finally led to the destruction of Vedic Village.
1. A history of the brutal Rajarhat land acquisition – booklet by CPIML(Liberation), translated by Santanu Sengupta, Sanhati.
2. Short introduction – Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati
3. Vedic Vultures – A hard look at the realtor-musclemen-CPIM nexus in Rajarhat by Sankar Ray
4. Left out of dazzle & delights, villagers may have struck back – An initial TOI report, August 25 2009
5. Biplab Biswas arrested – the link between Vedic Realty and local tough Gaffar Molla – TOI, August 27 2009
6. Souring of the urban-industrial vision: Gated communities want stronger gates – Reaction of realtors
7. Land cell goes against norms: Abdur Rezzak Mollah under the scanner – The Telegraph, August 31 2009
Short introduction – Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati. Sept. 2 2009.
The recent violence in the Shekharpur area of Rajarhat, which culminated in the burning down of the Vedic Village resort by local inhabitants, has taken the lid off a sordid story that has been unfolding for well over a decade.
Seething anger of Rajarhat inhabitants against the resort, which was commonly recognized as a den of criminal activities ranging from prostitution to bomb-making, and against the highly unjust, and often violent, process by which their land has been grabbed by land-sharks with the active backing of the West Bengal government and the CPI(M) party, has finally exploded in the form of this violent outburst again Vedic Village.
However, Vedic Village epitomizes the way that the West Bengal government has been going about promoting the grabbing of land, used for both agriculture and industries, by realtors who have converted these to resorts and housing complexes for the rich. 44 acres of agricultural land which had been illegaly taken over by Vedic Village were taken back and vested by the Land and Land Reforms department of the West Bengal government. Vedic Village had contested this in the West Bengal high court and had received a favourable judgement, mainly due to a lackadaisical approach of the government. Instead of appealing against the judgement in the supreme court, the government went into an out-of-court settlement with Vedic Village (which also shows that Vedic Village owners were themselves unsure of getting a favourable outcome from continuing the case) and sold off the 44 acres to them.
This is one of a pattern, which has also been seen in the case of the Hind Motors land: excess land occupied by a company is taken over by the government, but instead of redistributing the land as pattas to the landless, as the mandate for vested land is, the land is sold back to the company for a pittance to be used for building residential complexes and resorts. This is how the West Bengal government has actively bypassed the laws to hand over land on a platter to realtors who have taken over huge tracts of prime industrial and agricultural land in and around Kolkata.
This process is often complemented by a sordid saga of violence by politically-backed and protected goons against the local farmers to force them to give up their land, as has happened in Rajarhat.
Interestingly, with winds of “poltical change” blowing over West Bengal, many of these goons are extending their allegiance to the Trinamool Congress, as is the case with Gaffar Molla, the mastermind of the Rajarhat violence, who has developed a proximity to Arabul Hossain, the TMC MLA from the adjoining Bhangar area.
Left out of dazzle & delights, villagers may have struck back – An initial TOI report, August 25 2009
A rural idyll marred by the clash of cultures. The arson and mob fury at Vedic Village on Sunday shows that the quiet, green countryside which
has gone from sleepy village to global village in a matter of years is being wracked by disruptive forces.
Mushrooming highrises, malls and eateries have brought in upscale city residents, for whom the village is nothing more than a weekend boutique destination. Villagers not only feel left out of the dazzling show but also know that culturally, they can never be a part of this. This seething discontent may explain the outburst that led to the rampage at Vedic Village.
Mohammad Saif, a young garments trader from Rajarhat’s Mohammadpur (a part of the Megacity project) explains the dichotomy the villagers find themselves in. “Gramer manush khate, khaye, ghumaye. Er baire tar aar jibon nei (Villagers work, eat and sleep. There is little else in life for them). All that is changing now and we can’t adjust to it,” Saif said.
For the last five years or so, villagers at Shikharpur, Hakpara, Chandpur, Jhalgachhi and Bajtaraf have been witnessing the fast city life creep to their doorstep. Every weekend, the babus from Kolkata in their flashy cars and SUVs honk at the massive doorframe of the bungalow-spa resort.
“We are not used to seeing this kind of life. We don’t wear the same kind of clothes, nor do we speak in the same way,” Saif reasoned. Another villager, Sadiq Ismail, says that certain things can never be accepted by the villagers. “Loud music is played till late in the night. In villages, this happens only during festivals. But here, this happens twice or thrice a week. This disturbs us,” Ismail said.
Had it just been a rich neighbour, Ismail could have complained. But Vedic Village remained out of bounds. Only those who got jobs there were allowed in. Stories of what the rich and famous did in their leisure time filtered into the village, provoking wonder and then, disgust.
Ruby Sain, the head of Jadavpur University’s sociology department, describes Sunday’s violence as an “expression of anger against the landed gentry”. “A palatial residence surrounded by hutments triggers an emotional conflict. They have no longer any right over the land. There is social exclusion. They don’t have enough money and this leads to a mental deprivation and finally, the outburst,” Sain said.
Economist Dipankar Dasgupta said that society was in a transitional phase. “The present government has lost its power to govern. The opposition is keen on proving this, even if it means provoking violence. This is likely to continue for another five or six years,” Dasgupta said.
Another socio-economic change that has served a blow to the villagers is the rising price of silver. Most of the villagers were adept in making silverware. “If the villagers had work, things might have been different,” said Haran Mandal, a CPM supporter staying at Shikharpur.
Both CPM and Trinamool concede that New Town has brought about a change in the entire area. “The construction boom in New Town has paved the way for the rise of a group of criminals,” said Tanmay Mandal, Trinamool Congress leader.
The local CPM leaders see this a part of a Trinamool “grand design” to expand its base. “They are trying to increase their clout in these areas,” said Rabin Mandal, Rajarhat MLA.
Biplab Biswas arrested – the link between Vedic Realty and local tough Gaffar Molla – TOI, August 27 2009
Biplob Biswas, the assistant manager of Vedic Village, was arrested on Thursday for his alleged links with Gaffar Mollah, the main accused for Sunday’s violence at the swank resort.
North 24-Parganas police also arrested a notorious criminal from Haroa in Basirhat in connection with the violence, which left a man dead and part of the resort razed to the ground. Kelo Babu is a close accomplice of Gaffar, the main accused, who is still at large. He has reportedly given cops valuable clues as to Gaffar’s whereabouts.
Till Thursday evening, a total of 29 people have been arrested in this connection.
Senior officers felt that both Babu and Biswas can shed light on what exactly led to the violence and the whereabouts of other miscreants, including Gaffar. Babu is a dreaded criminal from Haroa who did Gaffar’s bidding. Police say he was a contract killer and was among those who received a monthly remuneration from Gaffar. Biswas, on the other hand, may be one of the insiders who provided shelter to Gaffar and others in Vedic Village.
“We have arrested them for their involvement in Sunday’s incident at Rajarhat. Both Gaffar and Babu have links with Biswas. We have started interrogating them and expect them to provide some inputs regarding the present whereabouts of the main accused,” said S N Gupta, DIG (Presidency range). Police sources revealed that Biswas may even have been the linkman between Gaffar and the Vedic Village administration.
“We have come to know that Biswas took Gaffar’s help a number of times to scare villagers who were against the Vedic Village expansion plans. Biswas may have actually succeeded in getting closer to the resort management by using his long-term links with Gaffar, Babu and other miscreants like Moinuddin Mollah. With their help, the resort management quelled any protest raised by locals,” said a senior officer.
Both Babu and Biswas were taken to the district police headquarters in Madhyamgram. Another Vedic Village employee was also taken there for interrogation. He was not arrested, though.
Souring of the urban-industrial vision – Gated communities want stronger gates
City realtors are shocked by the arson at Vedic Village in Rajarhat and fear that unless strong action is taken, investor and buyer confidence would be rattled.
Terming the incident unfortunate, Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) national president Santosh Rungta said it had raised basic concerns of how effective the administration is in tackling law and order problems.
“It is baffling how a row over a football match could have triggered such chaos, igniting mob violence. It also points to the poor response time of both police and fire brigade. At a Bengal Chamber of Commerce meeting held a couple of months ago, state home secretary Ardhendu Sen had hinted at a Brihottor Kolkata Police (force for greater Kolkata) that would bring adjoining areas like Salt Lake and New Town under its fold. This incident should hasten the formation of such a force because the regimen of Kolkata Police is definitely more superior than the force in the district,” said Rungta, who has a number of projects in the Rajarhat belt.
Other than Action Area I, the other condominium developments in New Town are isolated. Security is a big concern and a deterrent. Sunday’s incident, close to the pockets of development in Action Area II, has further heightened the concerns.
“After what happened at Vedic Village, I will not move in till there is more buzz and activity in New Town. No one in their right mind would decide to stay there now,” said Rajiv Dasgupta, owner of an apartment next to the upcoming City Centre in the satellite township.
“The fears are real,” realtor Pradip Kumar Chopra said. “It needs to be allayed with decisive action by the administration. If people don’t feel secure to move into peripheral areas, the city’s growth will stop. The incident has made me very apprehensive about future projects in the area. If it recurs, builders will look at other cities. We cannot do business in an environment of fear,” Chopra said.
Space group director Piyush Bhagat, who was a partner in the Vedic Village project during its initial years, said the incident had already sent wrong signals. “If mob fury can happen in Rajarhat, it can happen in the city as well. It has shaken everyone’s confidence. If faith is not restored in a couple of months, it will be disastrous for the sector,” he said.
United Credit Belani Group director Sumit Dabriwala, too, termed the incident disastrous but did not think it was symptomatic of a larger malaise. “It is an isolated incident and should be viewed as such. But the response time of police should have been faster. If this is repeated, it’ll become a huge challenge,” he said.
Ambuja Realty managing director Harsh Neotia, who was the first to build a major project on the city fringes and has substantial investments in New Town, said police need to get to the bottom of what sparked the trouble.
“This is the first time something of this sort has happened since the agitation in the 1970s. I have developments in Raichak. Sushil Mohta has Ibiza on Diamond Harbour Road. There is Lakeland by Ram Ratan Chowdhury. Something like this has never happened before. I hope this is a one-off incident,” he said.
Realtors are worried about mob psychosis moving from streets to a private property. “We’ve had trams and buses burnt at the slightest provocation. The government and administration must come down heavily on such acts. We’ve been silent for too long,” said NK Realtors director Pawan Agarwal.
Neotia felt the mob mentality has deep roots in our psyche, given the agitational politics in a state that has been politically active for decades. “These are deeper socio-cultural issues that need societal addressing. There is no quickfix solution,” he said.
But is it also to do with unequal development that widens the gulf between the haves and the have nots rather than bridge it? “Development always begins in pockets and then spreads out. But there is need for corporate social responsibility in the sector. Every development needs to have a human face, whether it be creating an better access road that helps everyone, providing drinking water and sanitation facilities, schools or hospitals,” Rungta said.
Land cell goes against norms – Abdur Rezzak Mollah under the scanner
Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah today claimed he was “super clean” and could “justify” every action his department had taken on Vedic Village.
But his department’s two actions, which lie at the heart of the controversy, go against the principles so far followed by the government on land distribution and legal perseverance, veteran officials familiar with the issues said.
At the crux of the matter is a decision by Mollah’s department to lease out for 99 years, which means possession for a lifetime, 44 acres of vested land to Vedic Village, a resort.
Vested or government land is meant to be leased out only if the project involves public good such as hospitals or industry that benefits a large populace.
“The norm is that vested land is leased out for projects like hospitals, highways or for setting up industries that will provide jobs to many people and ensure overall socio-economic development of the region. What public purpose does a resort serve?” an official in Mollah’s department asked today.
A former bureaucrat, involved with the land reforms of the Left Front government, pointed out: “Ideally, the government, after vesting the land, should have distributed pattas and given away the land to landless farmers.”
“Why did Mollah go hammer and tongs at his own government when it was acquiring farmland in Singur?” asked a serving official.
But Mollah, who has repeatedly questioned the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s drive to acquire farmland for industry, today shed little light other than asking tamely: “What’s wrong if a resort or an entertainment centre is given land?’’
The second question at the root of the controversy is why Mollah reached an out-of-court settlement with Vedic Village after filing a case against it for submitting misleading information.
Vedic Village won a round in the high court in 2004 but the land department inexplicably opted for a settlement, showing rare alacrity for a government that hardly wastes a chance to fight legal battles to the finish in the Supreme Court.
The government had taken over the land — making it vested — on the charge that the Vedic promoters had tried to register it in the names of more people than was the case. After the settlement following the court ruling, the land was handed back to the promoters on lease by Mollah’s department.
Mollah is understood to have told CPM state secretary Biman Bose that had his department gone to the Supreme Court in appeal, the case would have got stuck there for several years.
Such considerations for speed were not on display when the government fought repeated legal battles in the high court against banning polluting vehicles.
Officials said the legal opinion then was that the government would have won the case had it appealed against the high court order. “Otherwise, why should the party that got the favourable ruling here agree to an out- of-court settlement with the government?” an official asked.
But Mollah said the only way out was to lease the land for 99 years. “For this, they even paid us 95 per cent of the cost of purchase of the land. So financially, too, it was viable,” he said.
Mollah had not consulted either chief minister Bhattacharjee or the then CPM state secretary, Anil Biswas, before taking the decision on the settlement.