West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee restored the possession of land to Singur farmers on Wednesday
The Supreme Court had on 31 August ruled that the West Bengal government had not followed the due process of law to acquire 997 acres for Tata Motors’s proposed small car factory where the Nano car was to be manufactured. On Wednesday, within two weeks of the verdict, the state administration handed out ownership documents to 9,117 owners from whom land was previously seized.
The process of restoring possession of the entire plot of 997 acres will be completed within 7-8 weeks, well ahead of the deadline of 12 weeks set by the Supreme Court, the chief minister said. The district administration, she said, had already completed the demarcation of 623 acres for being returned to their original owners.
To make amends for past mistakes, Banerjee announced that the state government would give a one-time grant of Rs.10,000 to each farmer who got back the land so that they could restart farming. To make up for lost time, the state government will also facilitate access to easy credit for Singur farmers to buy farm inputs and implements, the chief minister announced on Wednesday.
The entire 997-acre plot will be made cultivable again, scooping out landfill and razing concrete structures, she reiterated on Wednesday, and the state, at its own cost, will create irrigation facilities so that the original character of the land is restored. The land taken for the Tata Motors factory used to have abundant irrigation facilities and yielded several crops a year. Some 13,000 people were affected by the now quashed acquisition.
The first to receive the ownership deed on Wednesday was octogenarian Mukundaram Chakraborty. He was among the 800 so-called unwilling farmers, or those who refused to accept the compensation given by the state previously for land seized from them. On Wednesday, Chakraborty also received a cheque for about Rs.78,000—the money he refused to take for 10 years in protest. Though he was overwhelmed, Chakraborty rued that his sons had already flown the nest and wouldn’t come back to join him in farming. “I am happy, but what next?” he asked.
Singur was born out of the Left Front government’s conviction that farming didn’t hold much promise for future generations and that agrarian families were looking for other options for their children. Jobs were on the lips of Banerjee, too. Pacing up and down the 4,000 sq. ft dais, she announced in Singur that the state had selected some 60,000 young men and women to be hired as teachers.
The celebration was muted among those who had agreed to give up on farming. Such farmers said the landholdings were too small to sustain families and that gains would have been much higher in the long run had some industrial project materialised in Singur. Brothers Nitaichandra and Nemaichandra Dey, who queued up to receive their ownership deeds, said they needed some alternative for their children and that the return of land didn’t hold out much promise for them.