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West Bengal: Satellite images show massive land grabbing in Sandeshkhali area, locals say Sheikh Shahjahan’s men converted farmland into fishponds

Allegedly, Sheikh took possession of a playground owned by Shri Aurobindo Mission and rebranded it as the "Sheikh Shahjahan Fan Club" ground, with the new name prominently displayed on its main gate and walls.

The police in West Bengal ‘found’ the absconding TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan and arrested him on 29th February, after weeks of protests by the local women and unsuccessful attempts by the ED team. The West Bengal Police arrested Sheikh Shahjahan from the Minakhan area in North 24 Parganas. His arrest came after weeks of protests by the local women who have been voicing their outrage against the institutionalised sexual exploitation, rape, property encroachment, and corruption they have suffered at the hands of the influential TMC leader and his goons.

Now, satellite images of land grabbing allegedly done by his men have emerged in the media where it is seen how large land mass has been converted from agriculture fields to fishponds and other establishments over the years, reportedly by Sheikh Shahjahan and his goons.

According to a report by India Today, satellite data reveals that starting from 2013, vast expanses of agricultural land in Sandeshkhali, West Bengal, were transformed into ponds. The report also claims that according to the villagers, the arrested local TMC strongman, Sheikh Shahjahan, and his associates forcibly occupied and repurposed the land for their use.

Land parcels where villagers used to grow rice, the staple food grain, in this delta region of North 24 Parganas district are seen in these images. Boyermari, Hatgachi, Nalkara, Sarberia, and Rajbari areas of Sandeshkhali Block 1 are majorly affected. Similarly, Trimoni Bazaar, Jhupkhali, Majherpara, and Bermujur areas in Sandeshkhali Block 2 have also seen large-scale land grabbing.

Hundreds of acres of land were converted to ponds for fishfarming. The farmers and original landowners were forced to give away their belongings for five to six thousand rupees per year as leases. When the locals opposed this, the land was forcibly acquired by these goons and turned into ponds of saline waters.

Rupadasi Sardar, a tribal woman in his 60s said, “Uttam Sardar (a close aide of Sheikh Shahjahan) took my 3.3 bigha of land on lease but never paid the offered sum. We could not refuse because others had also agreed to give in their lands.”

People in Sandeshkhali who once cultivated their food grains, rice and other staple food in these lands are now forced to purchase grains from shops at exorbitant prices in the market. Additionally, they do not own their land anymore.

While the exact total area of converted land remains uncertain, conservative estimates suggest it exceeds 1000 acres. This estimation is based on observations of a relatively small area from space, which spans approximately 100 acres.

Further support for this estimate comes from a Google Earth flythrough tour. Additionally, Google Street View data uploaded in 2023 depicts numerous bheris (fish ponds) stretching across the landscape in many areas, although not all of these mapped areas are necessarily linked to Sheikh’s operations.

According to villagers, Sheikh’s fish farming activities are overseen by his brother Jiauddin, along with aides Shibu Hazra and Uttam Sardar. They allege that the appropriation of land under the guise of lease agreements began in 2013-14 and intensified significantly after Sheikh was elected deputy chief of the gram panchayat in 2018. Officials state that 147 cases of land grabbing have been resolved following protests. Reports indicate that only 200 bighas of land have been returned as a result.

Allegedly, Sheikh took possession of a playground owned by Shri Aurobindo Mission and rebranded it as the “Sheikh Shahjahan Fan Club” ground, with the new name prominently displayed on its main gate and walls. Local authorities have recently declared the ground liberated amid protests, arson, and violence that erupted in the area following allegations of rape against Sheikh’s associates. According to Google Earth imagery, the ground spans approximately 2.86 acres of land in Singhpara. Last year, the TMC leader organised the ‘Sheikh Shahjahan Fan Club Football Tournament’ on this ground.

Both Shibu Hazra and Uttam Sardar have been arrested now after protests by the Sandeshkhali women.

Now, that the people in the area are voicing their resentment against his atrocities, the land-grabbing crimes by this TMC leader are openly talked about. As the protests turned violent, people even ransacked properties like poultry farms and brick kilns set up by his accomplices on such grabbed lands. His key aides are also attacked and cases are registered against them. Sheikh Shahjahan was arrested on 29th February.

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OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
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