It took five years in power for Mamata Banerjee to fulfil her dream. The dream and topmost agenda of her party during her election campaign in the year 2011 was the return of land to the farmers of Singur. The Supreme Court finally gave the verdict in her favour, silencing her critics.
It was here in Singur, 10 years back when Mamata Banerjee first challenged the then Left front government with the issue of returning land to the unwilling farmers. Mamata geared her one-point agenda to dethrone the Left front government, which had been ruling Bengal for 34 years, when the land was forcibly taken from the unwilling farmers by the then government for Tata Motors. She was successful in her mission when in the year 2011 people gave the mandate in her favour to form the government in West Bengal over throwing the Left Front.
The landmark verdict of Supreme Court on August31, 2016, has asked the state government to return 997 acres of land to the unwilling farmers, who are the original owners of the land within 12 weeks. The verdict also said the land acquisition by the then Left government did not follow the rules laid by the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, which has now been replaced by a new law in 2013. This way Mamata has earned her mileage both ways.
Mamata Banerjee may have successfully unseated the Left Front government in the year 2011, but now with the settlement of Singur land case, her dream has been fulfilled. This is evident from her own words, which came as her first reaction after the verdict: “I am very happy today. The historic verdict of the Honourable Supreme Court on Singur land acquisition is a landmark victory of Maa-Mati-Manush. Even though, we came back to power with a huge mandate, I had a discontent that we could not succeed on Singur issue. But, now I can die peacefully.” She also said the Singur land deal was the ‘historical suicide’ on the part of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Left Front government.
Two days after the verdict, the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement saying there was no other way out then but to implement Land Acquisition Act,1894, in order to acquire land in Singur. “The Supreme Court has struck down the 997 acres of land acquired in Singur meant for the Tata car project. The then Left Front government had intended through this project to develop industry and thereby create jobs in the state. However, the acquisition process had to be undertaken under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, which was the only legal instrument available at that time. This was an Act which did not protect the interests of the farmers adequately. On land acquisition, the CPI (M) had earlier acknowledged in its Central Committee review report of the 2011 assembly elections that the administrative and political mistakes in this regard proved costly,” the statement said.
The real victims of Singur are the farmers, and their reactions after the Supreme Court judgement are optimistic and at the same time doubtful. As a land looser Dilip Samanta says: “During agitation we were beaten up by police. We went to jail for our land and now we will get our land. My regards to Mamata Banerjee.” On the other hand, Mahadev Das, who has three bighas of land, said “We are happy because we are getting our land after so many years, but will the government make our land fertile and cultivable now, as the land is now a part of already constructed plant site.”
The verdict was also a big setback for Tata group too. It was the Tata group, which acquired land in 2006 for the highly ambitious small-car project, the Nano. After the verdict, Tata Motors issued a statement saying: “The case in which the judgment has been delivered, is related to the acquisition of land by the State Government, before it was leased to Tata Motors. Our case relating to Singur Act of 2011 is yet to be heard by the Supreme Court. We will study today’s judgment in detail before commenting further on the same.”
It is noteworthy that the Singur land agitation pushed forward Mamata Banerjee into the political centre stage of Bengal. The two-year-long agitation by farmers, led by Mamata agitation against the then Buddhadeb Bhattacharya led Left front government in Bengal for taking away the land from unwilling farmers for the industrial project, was the first move which brought Mamata into the limelight and many supporters to her fold.
Singur land acquisition: Sequence of events
May 2006: Tata Motors announces Nano car plant at Singur in West Bengal.
July 2006: Mamata Banerjee opposes the plant on fertile land.
December 2006: Protests against the acquisition begin.
December 2006: Mamata Banerjee holds 26-day hunger strike against the land acquisition.
January 21, 2007: Tata Motors starts construction of Nano car plant in West Bengal.
January 28, 2008: Calcutta High Court upholds Singur land acquisition, following which farmers and NGOs moved the Supreme Court challenging the HC order.
August 24, 2008: Mamata Banerjee starts indefinite dharna at Singur outside the car plant.
September 2, 2008: Tata Motors suspends work at Nano Plant in Singur.
September 3, 2008: Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi plays mediator; CPI (M)-led Left Front government and Trinamool agree to hold discussions.
September 5, 2008: West Bengal government and Trinamool start negotiations.
September 7, 2008: Talks break down.
October 3, 2008: Tata Motors decides to move out of Singur.
October 7, 2008: Tata Motors announces new Nano Plant at Sanand in Gujarat.
May 20, 2011: Mamata Banerjee sworn in as Chief Minister of West Bengal, announces first Cabinet decision to return 400 acres of land to unwilling Singur farmers.
June 14, 2011: Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011 passed in West Bengal Assembly.
June 22, 2011: Tata Motors moves Calcutta High Court challenging the Bill.
September 28, 2011: Calcutta High Court single bench upholds the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011.
June 22, 2012: A division bench of Calcutta High Court strikes down the Bill on an appeal by Tata Motors.
August 31, 2016: Supreme Court sets aside January 18, 2008 order of Calcutta High Court allows appeals filed by some farmers and NGOs.
Intellectuals lent their support to Mamata. Eminent activists and writers such as Mahashweta Devi, Aparna Sen and Medha Patkar supported Mamata Banerjee’s movement for farmers, who then emerged as the force and the voice of the farmers which compelled the Tata group to pull out of the state and relocate the plant to Sanand in Gujarat.
The then Left Front government was projecting the deal with Tata Motors as its big victory. It was a key milestone that would have helped the Left, which had been ruling the state since 1977, ward off its industry-unfriendly image. The West Bengal government wanted the Nano plant both for the jobs it would bring and the industry friendly message it would send but Mamata stole the show by becoming more communist lending her hand of support to the farmers.
Around 2,200 farmers were ‘unwilling’ to part with their land. They owned about 400 acres of land,according to Mamata Banerjee (the government then said only 181 acres fell in the unwilling category). The other set of farmers, who were termed willing farmers, have accepted the compensation package offered by the government.
Soon after Mamata Banerjee came to power and became the chief minister, she enacted Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act in 2011 to re-claim the land from the Tatas. She also gave the developmental agenda of Bengal a new dimension by promoting both agriculture and industry together.
As chief minister of West Bengal she is leaving no stone unturned to change her industry-unfriendly image. She is taking steps to attract investment and industry into the state. Investor summits have become a regular yearly event.
Now after the verdict of Supreme Court, Mamata Banerjee has called for a special strategy for Singur to decide on the future course of action. It is no doubt time for celebration for the party but the state government now has a tremendous task of redistributing the land and identifying who were the willing and unwilling farmers and who were already compensated. It now remains to be seen when and how things will materialise.
by Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata