Compensation and industry
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday began the process of handing over land "parchas" and compensation cheques to the farmers of Singur less than 15 days after the landmark apex court judgment. "Parchas" refer to documents that establish the ownership of a farmer over a piece of land in revenue records. The state government will hand over "parchas" to 9,117 farmers and distribute cheques among 800 farmers who had not taken compensation earlier protesting against the forcible acquisition of land by the erstwhile Left Front government for the Tata Nano project. Lakhs of people will pour into Singur from different parts of the state to celebrate with farmers, who will be getting back their rights after a decade-long struggle.
In a landmark judgement on August 31, the Supreme Court declared that the acquisition of 997 acres of land under the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act in Singur for the Tata Nano plant was “grossly perverse and illegal” and quashed it. This judgement stands as a severe indictment of the previous Left Front government’s policy of forcibly acquiring land for big business at the cost of farmer interests. In the words of the two-judge bench, the acquisition was a “colourable exercise of power and fraud on the people”. It also directed the Bengal government to return the land to the farmers, who originally owned the land, in 12 weeks. Compensation already paid to them on account of the acquisition shall not be recovered since "they have been deprived of the occupation and enjoyment of their lands for the last ten years".
In a little more than two weeks, the government has set out to fulfill the court’s wishes. Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s long fought battle against the forcible acquisition of farmland began long before she took office in 2011. The Singur agitation began in 2006 in the backdrop of then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s insistence on using the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act to forcefully acquire farmland for the Tata Nano plant. In the wake of such injustice, Mamata Banerjee stood in solidarity with the dispossessed farmers and organised a movement to protect their interests. It was the Singur movement, which precipitated the rise of TMC. Defending the rights of poor farmers, who directly depend on the land for sustenance, has become one of the cornerstones of the current TMC government’s vision for Bengal. Five years after her stunning victory over the Left Front behemoth, Mamata’s promise to return the land back to the farmers of Singur has been fulfilled.
Despite a tussle with Tata Group, several of the company’s projects are underway in the state. Mamata has been unequivocal in her claim that Bengal is the final destination for economic investment in this country. After the Left Front government's disastrous attempts at industrialisation, the TMC has picked up the pieces and gradually brought industry back into West Bengal. In her second term, there has been a renewed focus on industry, keeping it on par with the rural development agenda. Long-time observers of the state have noted that the TMC’s promises have been backed up by words. In a bid to reclaim Tata’s interest, the state government is ready to offer land for an industrial hub to the company as a means of compensating for the losses incurred in Singur. “Availability of industrial land in Bengal was never an issue until, for reasons best known to the former Marxist Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who acquired and allotted hundreds of acres of highly fertile annual three-crop agricultural land at Singur to Tata Motors to set up a mini-car plant there,” according to long-time Bengal observer Nantoo Banerjee. The only concern was the manner in which land was forcibly acquired.
The impression that Bengal is not a favourable industrial destination is a creation of the elite New Delhi-based media, aided by the short-lived anti-industry and anti-business agitations by local Naxal insurgents, followed by CPM-led Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years until May 2011. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, is out to change the mindset of both overseas and Indian investors. Under TMC government, the state now ranks among the highest in the maintenance of industrial stability. Prolonged industrial strife is a thing of the past. In fact, the ruling dispensation in the state has spoken directly to entrepreneurs outside the country.
Mamata’s visit to Singapore and her recent tour of Germany accompanied by a team of high-profile Bengali entrepreneurs are symbolic of such attempts. This team of entrepreneurs, led by the Chief Minister, shared their vision of Bengal with leading figures of German industry. Bengal really means business. Aided by remarkable progress in rural development and agriculture, the state is on its way to greater prosperity in the coming days.