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Singur: Whose land is it anyway?
September 11, 2008
The final outcome from the Singur imbroglio remains uncertain. The West Bengal governor has tried to retrieve the situation by finding a way to break the impasse, but it is far from certain that his efforts will ultimately succeed. Sunday's announcement put a question mark over what happens to some of the automobile component suppliers to the Nano project, Mamata Banerjee remains unpredictable when it comes to the precise nature of her demands, and the West Bengal government has declared that while the land earmarked for the Nano project and its vendors is occupied, it is willing to have the land surveyed and the truth established.
Tata Motors [Get Quote] on its part has stated that it will not review its suspension of work at the Singur site until it is confident that the project as originally conceived, including the location of component suppliers, can go through without disruption. It is possible that, having come this far, the principals will be able to find a way to agree on what needs to be done, but that is not a foregone conclusion.
The real breakthrough came with the legal opinion that while land acquired by the state government could not be returned to the original owners, as had been maintained all along by the state government, land acquired by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation was on a different footing and could indeed be returned. It therefore remained to be established whether there is any land available which can be returned.
The Trinamool Congress is willing to leave alone the 645 acres occupied directly by Tata Motors. Some 47 acres in the possession of the WBIDC is available for providing relief to farmers whose land has been taken over, but that is clearly inadequate for some 2,200 (out of 12,700) farmers who have not accepted compensation and who owned close to 300 acres.
The agreement on Sunday meant that just under half of the 290-acre vendors' park that is said to be unallotted to vendors, and still arable in the midst of the construction work, can therefore be returned. But, perhaps under pressure following the Tata Motors statement, the state government seems to have declared that the vendors' park is fully occupied.
The truth is to be established. Even if any land made free is offered to farmers, that is unlikely to be enough for all the claimants, and the only solution then would be for the state government to buy arable land elsewhere from willing farmers and give it to the dispossessed protestors at Singur.
The question of whether Tata Motors needed or should have got so much land in the first place is now so much water under the bridge. It has been declared as policy that if 70 per cent of the people whose land is taken over for a public project (and the Tata Motors project has been so declared by the court) do not protest, then the remaining 30 per cent will have no volition in surrendering their land.
If one goes by this precept, then the 2,200 unwilling farmers should be asked to accept payment that was above market price at the time, and resettle elsewhere.
What Ms Banerjee has done is to throw the 70:30 formulation open to question, with unsettling questions with regard to land acquisition for other industrial projects.
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