Nearly a decade after the agitation in Singur began in 2006, people of the town who fought for protection of land nine years back now want industry to come there. Four-and-a-half years back when Mamata Banerjee stormed into the power, her first Cabinet decision was to give back 400 acres of Singur land to the unwilling farmers. But nothing has happened on that front, with Tata Motors and the state government still fighting in court over the land.
Instead, the Tatas pulling out of its Nano project has made a dent in Bengal’s industry and economy on a whole.
Although state finance and industry minister Amit Mitra claims that Singur doesn’t come in the way of attracting investments, Singur MLA and programme implementation minister in Banerjee’s Cabinet, Rabindranath Bhattacharya, admits that Singur is a big dark spot in state government’s image.
“Even if our chief minister is desperately willing to solve the Singur issue, she cannot help it since the entire matter is lying with the Supreme Court,” Bhattacharya said.
“The Supreme Court’s judgment will come in our favour. As soon as we get it we will have industry on 600 acres and the 400 acres will be returned,” Becharam Manna, minister of state for land and land reforms, said.
The Cabinet decision to return 400 acres followed up with the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, through which the state government vested the entire land allocated to Tata Motors and its vendors. But the initiative got stuck in legal battles and it is now lying in the Supreme Court with the hearing of the case virtually halted.
Arunava Ghosh, a former TMC MLA and senior advocate, opined unless the Supreme Court pronounced that the acquisition was illegal, which was very unlikely, there was no way the government could return the land to its owners. The Calcutta High Court has already said that the land acquisition was not illegal.
The Left government in 2006 acquired 997 acres in Singur for the Nano car project. But even after the Tatas pulled out it renewed its lease for a rent of R1 crore. “Now that the matter is pending in the Supreme Court, the lease rent is also not coming to the state,” an industry department official said.
According to the Singur MLA, there were around 1,500 farmers holding around 397 acres, who did not take the compensatory cheques after the government’s acquisition in 2006. But the land that was acquired was agricultural land, which has now turned to an industrial one.
Udayan Das of the Singur Shilpo Bachao Committee said the people of Singur now want industry to come and our present movement is in demand for industry.
An official said the state land and land reforms (L&LR) department got into a tizzy when the chief minister first announced that 400 acres would be returned to unwilling farmers. The department reviewed the General Clauses Act of 1898 and found that it empowered government to cancel and alter notifications. Department officials were asked to find out the possibilities of ratifying the General Clauses Act of 1898.
Debabrata Bandopadhyay, a Trinamool MP and the key person to have carried out the Left Front government’s land reforms, said under Section 21 of the General Clauses Act of 1898 the authority issuing any notification could change, amend or even cancel it. He said since this clause brought every notification under its purview, the notification pertaining to Singur land acquisition also came under it.
But officials of the L&LR department said the word ‘authority’ in this case was the previous government that issued the notification and so making any alteration in the notification didn’t come under the purview of the present government.
Bandopadhyay, however, maintained that the word authority pertained to government in general and not any particular government. He said that a state government has powers to make local amendment of the Land Acquisition Act since land is a dual subject under the purview of both the Centre and State. He said Tamil Nadu has made a local amendment of the Land Acquisition Act and West Bengal following the same line would have made no mistake. Returning the land could have been easier if the government amended the General Land Acquisition Act instead of introducing the Singur Bill.
But Ghosh said de-notification was not feasible since Section 21 of the General Clauses Act was already dead. “No government has ever de-notified any notification and so the section has lost its relevance,” he said adding there were also practical problems in making an amendment, since no amendment could be Singur specific. “An amendment will have its effect on all acquisitions and this could have raked up problems with earlier acquisitions too,” Ghosh said. So a Singur Bill was planned and tabled but that couldn’t rescue the government.