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Calcutta HC lets down Singur farmers

The Calcutta high court came to the aid of Tata Motors on Friday when it upheld its appeal against the single-judge verdict about the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011, which enabled the Mamata Banerjee government to recover land in Singur from Tata Motors. The court said the Singur act was constitutionally invalid and void. The state government has been given two months to contest the verdict in the Supreme Court.

In September 2011, Justice I P Mukerji's bench had upheld the act.

This verdict, if upheld in the higher court, can prove to be another big defeat of farmers and local people attached to their land after the repeated court directives against them in the Narmada dam project case.

On Facebook, the chief minister forcefully defended her right to stand by the protesting farmers, whose land was taken away by the previous Left Front government to benefit Tatas. 'I have no comments to offer on the Singur verdict. Throughout my life, I have struggled for the cause of the farmers, working class, poor and the underprivileged. Our commitment to be with them will remain, whether I am in power or not. I will continue to fight for this cause. Finally, the people’s choice in democracy will prevail,' she said.

Her industries minister Partha Chatterjee echoed her sentiments in the West Bengal Assembly on Friday. 'We are committed to protecting their rights,' he said of the suffering Singur farmers.

The Left Front, when it was in power in West Bengal, had leased 997 acres of land in Singur in 2006 to Tata Motors for a factory to produce India's cheapest car Nano. It led to huge protests from farmers, because they were not willing to part with their land. After Banerjee was elected the chief minister, defeating the Left, she passed the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act last year that allowed her to recover the land under dispute from the Tatas. During her election campaign, Banerjee had promised to return their land to the Singur farmers once she came to power.

Tatas on the other hand claims that since it has invest around Rs 1,500 crore for the project, it should be compensated. However, its claims do not take into account the massive subsidy the previous government had given it to build a small car.

While the land was acquired from around 13,000 farmers, about 3,000 of them did not accept compensation for their 400 acres of land way back in 2006. Banerjee said that Tatas could build a factory on the remaining 600 acres of land. The Tatas did not agree and the Nano factory was subsequently built in Gujarat.

Interestingly, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Justice Mrinal Kanti Chaudhuri's judgement said that the reason for holding the act void was the lack of presidential assent. Putting the Tatas' rights above the farmers', the court also said that the Tatas could claim compensation under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, because it was under that law that land was given to the Tatas. Interestingly, Justice Ghosh gave the judgement on his last day as a Calcutta high court judge. He will now assume the charge of acting chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh high court. This bench kept the judgement reserved for two months before reading it out today on the last day of Ghosh's tenure.

The Singur farmers though are on the protest track against the judgement. 'About 2,000 farmers today held a rally at Singur to protest against the anti-people judgement,' said a disgruntled farmer on Friday. 'It is unacceptable,' said Mahadeb Das, another farmer from Singur.

Banerjee had earlier announced that her government would pay a compensation of Rs 1,000 every month to families of farmers whose land was caught in dispute. She also offered them rice for Rs 2 per kilogramme to help them.
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