Land row

Hope in Singur

Print edition : August 09, 2013

In Singur, the abandoned site of Tata Motors' small car project after farmers' opposition forced the company to shift the project to Gujarat. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

THE Supreme Court’s oral observation that Tata Motors must return to the original owners the land it acquired at Singur in West Bengal for its small car factory comes as a shot in the arm for West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee. According to the court, the Tatas’ relocation of their small car factory in Gujarat is an indication that they may have no further use for the land in question. Calling the court’s observation a “moral victory”, Mamata said, “It will be one of the greatest rewards of my life if we can get back the land [for the farmers],” she said.

Mamata’s prolonged and in parts violent agitation for the return of 400 acres (160 hectares) belonging to “unwilling” farmers ultimately forced the Tatas to relocate to Gujarat in 2008 and paved the way for Mamata’s political turnaround and rise to power in West Bengal in 2011. The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, which her government passed, provided for the return of land to farmers who had refused compensation. However, a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court, overturning a ruling of a Single Bench, held, in June 2012, that the Act was “unconstitutional and void”. The State government filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the order.

On July 10, the Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices H.L. Dattu and Dipak Misra asked Tata Motors to make its stand clear by August 13. “The land was acquired for setting up a car manufacturing plant at Singur. You have already moved out. Now you cannot say you still have interest in the land in question. The land should go back to the farmers…. At the end of the day agriculturalists must survive,” the court said, adding that it may ask the government to give back the land to the farmers and file an affidavit. However, the question of the validity of the Act, for which the State government had moved the Supreme Court, is yet to be addressed. The people of Singur, who have been staunchly behind Mamata, were of late showing signs of losing their patience. The Tatas left the State five years ago and it is more than two years since the Trinamool Congress came to power.

Mamata’s promise to return the land has remained unfulfilled, and many in the region now regret not taking the compensation. The Supreme Court’s observation drew a sober response. “It is an oral suggestion. Not an order. It is too premature to say anything,” said an elderly farmer from Singur.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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