West Bengal

Singur and Mamata celebrate

Print edition : October 14, 2016

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee handing over land title deeds and compensation cheques to farmers at a rally in Singur on September 14. Photo: Swapan Mahapatra /PTI

JUST two weeks after the Supreme Court gave its ruling that the farmland acquired for Tata Motors’ Nano project in Singur by the erstwhile Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government be returned to the farmers, on September 14 the present Trinamool Congress government began the process of handing over land records and compensation cheques to the land losers.

It was a moment of triumph for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who had spearheaded the long-drawn Singur movement against the Tata Motors project from 2006, when she was in the opposition. The movement, which forced the Tatas to relocate the project to Gujarat, brought her back from the political wilderness, culminating in her assuming power in the State in 2001 by overthrowing the 34-year-old Left Front government. So it was apposite that she herself handed over the first set of land deeds and cheques (for those farmers who had refused compensation in 2006), amid huge fanfare and celebration.

For a while, it appeared that returning the land to the farmers of Singur would remain an unfulfilled promise of Mamata.

Even though she passed the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, legal hurdles and setbacks in courts resulted in the farmers losing hope. Questions were also raised on the genuineness of Mamata’s concern for the plight of the land losers, and her stand on Singur was interpreted as nothing more than a political gambit for coming to power.

Though the residents of Singur remained loyal to her, Mamata’s unease was apparent from the fact that her visits to Singur became infrequent. In fact, she did not campaign there for the 2016 Assembly elections. So it was with enormous relief that she addressed the people of Singur on September 14, with the words: “Kotha diyechhilam; kotha rekhechhi” (I gave you my word; I have kept my word). A startling element in Mamata’s speech at Singur was the overture she made to industries while celebrating the final result of a prolonged struggle that drove out an industry that many believed would have brought about West Bengal’s much-needed economic revival.

From the same location where she had 10 years ago demanded the ouster of the Tatas from the State, Mamata invited the Tatas to set up another automobile plant. “I want an automobile industry to be re-established; be it the Tatas, or BMW. We are not against industry, but [we are against] forcible land acquisition,” she said in an attempt to shake off her “anti-industries” image. She urged the Tatas to take the Supreme Court verdict “in a sporting spirit” and offered them 1,000 acres of land in Goaltore, Paschim Medinipur district, for a plant. “Industry and agriculture are sisters. They are not opposed to each other,” she said.

As a lot of construction work was done on the Singur land, the arability of the land has been affected. The government has begun the process to make the land cultivable again. “We will set up a check dam and install small tubewells. The Irrigation Department will ensure you get water. Soil-testing is being done and we will provide you with fertilizers and seeds,” Mamata told the farmers.

She also assured them that until the land was made cultivable again, farmers would continue to receive their dole of Rs.2,000 a family a month, and rice at Rs.2 a kg. The government will give a one-time grant of Rs.10,000 to farmers to buy small equipment, and the West Bengal Agro-Industry Corporation will extend loans up to Rs.24 lakh.

Suhrid Shankar Chattopadhyay