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Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
Sunday, 04 February 2018 12:01

SIGNIFICANCE OF BHANGAR MOVEMENT IN THE ERA OF GLOBALISATION - Sankar Das

THE present phase of Bhangar movement started at more than one year back with the formation of Jami, Jibika, Paribesh O Bastutantra Rakhsha Committee (Committee to protect Land, Livelihood, Nature and Ecology) at the end of November, 2016. The JJPBRC took Rajbhavan Abhiyan on 22nd December of the same year as its first open program to submit a memorandum to the Honourable Governor of the state. Few days before this program a deputation was also planned to give memorandum to the officers of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) in their local office at Lauhati, seven kilometres away from the project site. However, the officers fled away with fear locking their office before the scheduled time when a rally of several thousands of villagers reached. There were mainly two reasons behind their anxiety, fear and consequent inability to face the agitators, as the project is totally illegal and the number of agitating villagers was nearly ten thousands at that time.

Therefore, both the programs of JJPBRC were overwhelmingly supported by the people in both the districts, South 24 Parganas and Kolkata. On the other hand, the authorities in different levels including the Honourable Governor thought that it would be wise not to meet the villagers and to start a process of dialogues across the table. Not only the strength of the struggling masses of Bhangar led by the Committee, but also the inability of the authorities including the state government to open a talk still prevail as peculiarities of the movement even after one year. But at the same time both of these factors are still increasing. Here lies the clear indication that the struggle will continue for a longer time than it was expected.

Now, I like to discuss about the source of these two factors — the strength of the Committee and the inability of the authorities. According to my observation, the source of both of these factors lies in the fact that a section of the villagers in Bhangar area has clearly understood the nature of the so called development propagated by the rulers of which the power-grid project has become the essence embodied. Of course this development of the phenomenon did not take place in straight line. There are several ups and downs in the movement in this phase, and before — when the radical elements were absent in the field. The summation of all these experiences has helped the struggling people there to take a firm stand in favour of the movement. This is a common picture at present in all over the country that the masses of peasantry, adivasi, or other rural sections of the population are coming to understanding the real character of “development” of the ruling class, whereas the large section of urban middle class is still in an illusion of development. Therefore, a peculiar situation arises when the affected people and the surrounding masses are in a firm position to oppose various kinds of projects under this so called development, but the urban middle class and the intelligentsia are giving passive support to the governments’ in the name of supporting ‘development’. As a result, the struggles against different projects either face compulsion to reach in some kinds of compromises or enter in a prolonged battle. Till this date Bhangar is the example of the second type.

Electricity or Power is now a commodity to sell. The government of India presently allows the private companies to generate power and to sell it to different customers. Nearly half of the electricity generated in India is now produced by the private companies. The Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL), a state-owned company is mainly responsible to construct the infrastructure for the transmission of bulk electricity from the generation points to different load centres throughout the country, and then the distribution companies come to the picture to distribute the electricity including the retail customers. PGCIL, though, a state-owned company, but now has sold nearly fifty percent of shares to the hands of private entities. This whole process of producing electricity for distribution is now going on commercial basis, according to the profit and loss equation. Gone are the days when producing electricity and its distribution were considered as the basic activities for the economic development of the country and development of the living standard of the people as well. This change took place under the process of paradigm shift of the Indian ruling class with the advent of neo-liberalization since the late eighties of the last century. Therefore, this changing face of Indian electricity sector has attracted growing capital investment from domestic as well as foreign multinational companies. At present there are around 293 domestic and foreign private companies either operating or given assurance to invest in Indian electric sector. Between April 2000 and March 2017, the electricity sector has attracted 11.59 billion US dollar in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). As the profit seeking private investment started to play a major role in producing and distributing electricity in India several consequences have started to emerge.

One of these consequences of the changing face of Indian electricity sector is the establishment of super high voltage grid lines throughout the country. As we have said earlier the PGCIL is mainly responsible to lay out grid lines for bulk electricity transmission, nearly 80 percent of the electrification in India was completed before formation of this company, in 1989. From 1947, at the time of the transfer of power in India, to mid-1960s the state Electricity Boards were mainly responsible for generating and distributing electricity in concerned states. However, keeping in mind the transmission of excess electricity from a particular state to a power-starved state regional grid system was introduced in 1960s. As a result of this policy five regional grids emerged, namely, eastern grid, north-eastern grid, northern grid, western grid and southern grid. Since 1991 the policy makers started thinking to go for a national grid interconnecting all the regional grids of the country under the neo-liberal influence keeping business in mind. PGCIL started its operation on management basis from this very year. In October 1991 the eastern grid and north-eastern grid were interconnected. The western grid was interconnected with the aforementioned grids in March 2003. In 2005 the central government led by Congress put forward the ‘One Nation One Grid’ slogan. In August 2006 the northern grid was interconnected and remaining southern grid was inter-connected in 2013 with the commissioning of 765 KV Raichur-Solapur transmission line. Thus the establishment of national grid was completed.

What was the declared objective of establishing the national grid? PGCIL stated in its website, “Synchronisation of all regional grids will help in optimal utilization of scarce natural resources by transfer of Power from Resource centric regions to Load centric regions. Further, this shall pave way for establishment of vibrant Electricity market facilitating trading of power across regions. One Nation One Grid shall synchronously connect all the regional grids and there will be one national frequency.” Very clear and honest indeed! Establishing the national grid has single objective, that is, to create a vibrant power market. Moreover, the market is not necessarily the home market. The government of India is putting more and more emphasis on foreign markets, that is, the markets of neighbouring countries. The reason is simple. Selling electricity to power-starved Bangladesh, Bhutan or Nepal is more profitable than selling it in home market. There are two outcomes of this fact. One is the whole mechanism in Indian electric sector is now oriented to cross-border sale of electricity and the second is that there is extreme pressure to the tariff level in home market to equalize the profit level with that of cross-border markets. That is the reason behind the surge of electricity tariff in India in spite of the fact that the nation is producing excess electricity at present. In Bengal this tariff has increased in 16 times in last six years.

It is absolutely wrong to assume that all these changes are taking place in India only or by only the Indian ruling class. The actual brain behind this is the United States of America. With the advent of World Bank (WB) and USAID (United States Agency for International Development) like organizations the US is monitoring and shaping the whole world including the so called backward countries like India. Therefore, mega ‘development’ programs have come in the picture. Since these global organizations have prioritized the energy sector as it is the most explosive arena of international competition and conflicts, several new ideas are put forward by them to implement in Indian scenario. Building national grid and to open the electricity sector to the big private capital in order to create a vibrant energy market with cross-border transmission all are actually their projects. The Indian ruling class only is playing the role of a junior partner of US and other global capitalist big bosses. Under the guidance and strict supervision of WB and USAID different Regional Cooperation and Integration Programs were launched. As a result the idea to create a Pan-South Asian electricity network to facilitate Electricity Trading throughout the region was put forward. USAID conducted a study and laid down the prerequisites. The lacunas, i.e., absence of any institutional mechanism of regional cooperation, absence of any strong regional centralized transmission network, unfavourable legal regulations etc. were pointed out and recommendations were made so that ‘each participating country needs to adopt complementary national energy policies, with interconnection being an integral element’ (USAID: Prospects for Regional Cooperation on Cross-Border Electricity trade in South Asia/ see for details; Revisiting Development Paradigm: Context Bhangar Movement—— Nisha Biswas and Priyam Basu).

The 400kv/200kv power grid substation in Bhangar is being constructed under a USAID project called ‘Four Borders Project’. The objective of this project is to facilitate the cross-border electricity trade among India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Originally the substation was supposed to install in Rajarhat. That is why the official name of the project is ‘Rajarhat-Purnea 400/200 KV double circuit line’. However, the land-mafias and promoter-syndicate groups patronized by the ruling Trinamool Congress Party in Rajarhat opposed the project apprehending that the land and real estate price may crash. Therefore, the proposed site of the substation changed illegally (without changing the official name) from Rajarhat to Bhangar. Although the objective of the project is to facilitate the cross-border electricity trade the propaganda machinery of the ruling party and the mass media heavily propagated that due to this project the condition of electricity supply in Kolkata and surrounding areas will be improved. 400 KV Rajarhat-Purnea line is a double circuit line which on one hand connects with Gokarna and at the other with Farakka at one end at connecting Purnia at the other. Whatever the government claims, there is no doubt that the attempt to set up power grid project on forcefully acquired 13.5 acres of land in a densely populated and highly fertile farmland in South 24 Parganas of West Bengal is to strengthen the capacity of the trade corridor with Bangladesh removing congestion in Farakka-Malda transmission line. One can see the minutes of the CEA (Central Electricity Authority), SP&PA (System Planning & Planning Appraisal) Division of date 28th December, 2010 and also the copy of the minutes of 17th Standing Committee meeting on Power System Planning of Eastern Region. The aim of the post-truth propaganda of improving the power condition of Kolkata and surrounding areas by the Rajarhat substation conducted by the government and corporate media was nothing but to neutralize the urban middle class including the intelligentsia in Kolkata from the movement. On the other hand fierce state repression was launched on the movement itself and its associates from the ranks of scientists, researchers, students, democratic people and other intellectuals to gag the voice of truth.

When the electricity is transmitted over a long distance a portion of electricity is lost during transmission. It is called transmission loss. With the advent of long distance power transmission reducing the transmission loss became a great concern to the power companies and supportive governments. According to theory, increasing voltage in transmission line can be a solution to reduce the percentage of transmission loss. Although data from the WB shows that in spite of high voltage and super high voltage power transmission the transmission loss could not be reduced expectedly throughout the globe, the super high voltage transmission of electricity has become a common practice. High voltage and super high voltage transmission of electricity is one of the biggest cause of electromagnetic pollution. This should be noted that the captains of the big capital worldwide are doing their best to hide this fact from the people. They even spend big money in researches and surveys for obtaining the results they want. The majority of the scientists and engineers in this field are highly paid by the power companies only to hide the truth in order to carry forward the anti-people power projects.

However, this powerful and concerted global attempt could not resist the independent scientists to come forward in many parts of Europe and US against electromagnetic pollution with their independent researches. SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and newly Identified Risks), an organization of European Union placed a report on the year of 2015 where more than 800 of such researches were cited. The name of this report was: Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields. Presently more and more scientists in the world confirm that the electromagnetic field created by the high voltage and super high voltage transmission line have significant adverse effect on human and sub-human bodies, thus effecting the ecology and nature in a large extent. Even the organizations like PGCIL also admit this fact under compulsion. So we read in the official website of PGCIL: “POWERGRID, which is committed to achieve the goal of Sustainable Development, had realized that given the scale of its operation, it is inevitable that there is some impact upon both natural environment and communities that it helps to support.”

PGCIL is a registered company in different share markets including Indian market under SEBI (Securities Exchange Board of India). In their submission to SEBI the company stated: “The construction and operation of our transmission and substation projects may have significant consequences on grazing, logging, agricultural activities, mining and land development as well as on the ecosystem of the affected areas” (PGCIL’s Prospectus: dated December 11, 2013; page no: XXX, point no: ‘Risk Factor/ 25. Collected from the presentation slide prepared by Nisha Biswas and Priyam Basu). One can see that even most carefully constructed submission of the company could not bypass the issue. Today even a child of class V knows that the human life and livelihood heavily depends on the ecosystem of a certain area in rural India. The peasantry, the fishing communities and the people employed in related economic activities are heavily depended on land, forest and concerned ecosystem and on the nature as a whole. Laying out high voltage and super high voltage grid lines all over country is more and more putting the whole system in danger.

The power grid substation of Bhangar is being constructed over 13.5 acres of land. The TMC led West Bengal government acquired this land using the law of 1894 against which the glorious struggles in Singur and Nandigram were fought. At that time Mamta Banerjee and TMC pretended that they were staunch warriors against forceful land grabbing. However, the most interesting thing is that they acquired the land in Bhangar on the date of 31st December 2013, just one day before the new law was going to be introduced. Mamta Banerjee declared at the time of coming to the power that her government would not acquire land from a single unwilling farmer, but in Bhangar eleven families did not accept any kind of payment from the government and declared themselves unwilling. All these could not prevent the TMC government from acquiring the land. However, the land saga does not end here, rather it is just a beginning.

Since the various kinds of adverse effects of high voltage and super high voltage have been detected and accepted globally, there are two types of clearances to be maintained. One of these is the ground clearance which should be maintained from the height of highest structures of the locality. It should be 9 meters. However, the most problematic is the other type of clearances which is called Right of Way (ROW) clearance. ROW is nothing but the amount of the land which must be vacated on both the sides of the high voltage transmission line. In India ROW is 26x2= 52 meters. According to present Electricity law and Telegraph law no compensation is paid for ROW, although a huge amount of land is wasted. The grid line from Purnea to Rajarhat covers 993 km, out of which 480 km in West Bengal. If for this single connection total 993 km x 52 m is wasted then one can easily imagine how much land is being wasted due to grid lines all over the country. It must be noted that in Bengal all this land is highly fertile (somewhere 7 crops in a year), densely populated and in Bhangar and in some other parts in Bengal it is ecologically rich and fragile as well. Then what is the solution PGCIL offers? Their general attitude is reflected in their submission to SEBI, where they have stated: “The construction and operation of our transmission and substation projects may require the displacement or relocation of local communities or may otherwise disrupt their activities and livelihoods” (ibid). Outright anti-people indeed!

The significance of Bhangar movement lies in the fact that the heroic people of Bhangar have forced the horse of Aswamedha to stop on the ground of Bhangar. Mafizul and Alamgir, two heroes of the movement have been martyred. More than 50 criminal cases including UAPA like charges have been filed against the villagers. There are 42 villagers who had to spend several months in jail. Due to economic blockade by the ruling party and police during last one year, the economic condition of more than fifteen villages is now devastated. Huge money is being spent for legal cases. The normal life has been paralyzed. But the people have not left the struggle till this date.

The significance of Bhangar movement lies in the fact that this is the first ever popular struggle in India which has raised the question of electromagnetic pollution and stood firmly against it. The villagers came to know about this evil much before than the urban intelligentsia turned their attention to it. The struggling forces including the revolutionaries never see this important issue raised by Bhangar movement in spite of the fact that anti-grid or anti-high transmission line movement has a long history in Europe and US. The heroic people of Bhangar have compelled the thinking people across organizations to give an attention to this kind of devastation created by the big capital which was hitherto unknown to the democratic and revolutionary people. When a section of revolutionary forces even stamped the movement as ‘based on superstition’, the fighting villagers of Bhangar have compelled them to know about the struggle of independent electromagnetic field scientists and popular movements in abroad.

The Bhangar movement has defined the scientific approach and science per se. The villagers of Bhangar have rejected and refuse to recognize the anti-people path of development led by the big bourgeoisie for creating vibrant markets as science though a bunch of advanced technological development is involved in the whole process. They took a little time to declare that the path which destroys nature, ecology, human and sub-human lives must be considered as unscientific in the long run. When even the best elements of progressive camp bowed down to pragmatic pseudo-science and could not go beyond the perceptive knowledge only and thus succumbed to the enemy campaign of ruling class, the heroic people of Bhangar quite easily understood the far-reaching effects of this capitalist mal-development and upheld the banner of uncompromising battle against it.

Bhangar movement has given the land movement a new dimension. The high and extra-high voltage grid line is nothing new in India. These lines are laid out at least for last 25 years. However, the left movement in India which is based on land struggle from its inception never even calculated the cumulative amount of land which has been wasted due to ROW clearances all over the country. They did not know about the issue before Bhangar movement and still have not realized much even today. The land under ROW has a peculiar character. This land is not acquired by the government, so the ownership does not change. Although there is provision of compensation (scanty although) in law for this land but PGCIL or other governmental agencies usually do not give that. The farmers own this land apparently but not in real term. Therefore no land struggle is launched till date by even the revolutionaries as the perceptive knowledge is the guiding force. Bhangar movement pointed out this lacuna very clearly and helped to flare up some other anti-gridline struggles in Bengal today.

Bhangar movement is a milestone in the history of people’s struggle in India irrespective of actual fate of the movement. Now it is the duty of the revolutionaries to become really capable to lead it. 

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