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Singur verdict:SC says return land to farmers

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court set aside the land acquisition by West Bengal Government in 2006 to facilitate Tata Motors to set up its Nano plant. This announcement comes as a big set-back for Tata’s.

The Apex court directed the West Bengal government to take possession of the land and distribute it to the land owners within 12 weeks.

It also announced that the farmer’s who got compensation from the government will not return it because they were deprived of their livelihood for the last ten years.

The SC also said that Tata had bypassed the rules while acquiring the land.

A batch of petitions had challenged the acquisition of land in West Bengal’s Singur for Tata Motors’ ambitious Nano small car project.

The bench of Justice V Gopala Gowda and Justice Arun Mishra pronounced the judgment on a batch of petitions which were filed in 2008 by a number of people aggrieved by the land acquisition which was undertaken by the then Left government.

The land acquisition was also challenged by the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights which had contended that acquisition of the Singur land for public purpose and then handing it over to Tata Motors for its Nano project was illegal and in breach of land acquisition law.

The association had told the court that there was a separate procedure under the land acquisition law for acquiring land for a project of a private company, and that the land acquired by the government for public purposes could be given to a private company only for constructing dwelling units of the workers employed with it and no other purpose.

Almost eight years after the shifting out of Tata Motors Nano car project to Gujarat, the land and industrialization were one of the key issues during the 2016 West Bengal Assembly Elections.

During the campaigning of the 2016 Assembly elections, keeping in mind that land continues to be a sensitive issue, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had spoken in Singur about her government’s commitment to return the land to the ‘unwilling’ farmers. Countering her statement, CPM state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra had said that it was not possible to return the land.

The CPM argued that by driving away the Nano project, entire Bengal had lost an opportunity for industrialization.

“If Nano project was set up here, not only Singur but entire Bengal would have got the benefit of industrialization,” CPM-Congress alliance candidate Rabin Deb had said during polling season.

In May 2006, the then CPM government led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya announced that Tata would locate their ‘Rs 1 lakh’ car project — Nano project — in Singur for which some 997 acres of land would be allocated. The land would be acquired for the Tatas by a state industry promotion agency.

Mamata Banerjee then had kicked up a storm and protested the acquisition of the land by industry giants Tata. The farmers, whose land was being acquired by the company, were taking their compensation cheques, however, the agitation led by the Trinamool Congress had turned violent.

Tata soon completed the construction of the plant and amid the agitation released their model Nano car. The car was unveiled in 2008 at the Delhi auto show. However, Banerjee relentlessly protested the acquisition of the land while firmly asserting that her party was not anti-industry and the 400 acres of land belonging to the ‘unwilling farmers’ should be returned to them.

Her “Save Farmland” movement was supported by various environmental activists and intellectuals.

In October 2008, Ratan Tata decided to move the plant to Sanand in Gujarat citing security concerns in Bengal’s Singur. A very happy Narendra Modi government in Gujarat took the Nano plant under its wings. It took 14 months to construct the Nano plant in Gujarat as opposed to the 28 months it took for the Singur plant.

When Banerjee became the chief minister of West Bengal in 2011, she announced her intent to return the Singur land to the “unwilling Singur farmers”. The assembly passed a hastily drafted Singur Land and Rehabilitation Bill, 2011. Various land-return forms were also distributed to the farmers as the Tatas moved the court to protect their interest in their leasehold.

 

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