It is easy to spot the trappings of dejection along the now broken Singur roads, after the Calcutta High Court division bench judgment today termed the Singur Act, a legislation introduced by the Mamata Banerjee government to recover some land leased to Tata Motors Ltd, as “void and unconstitutional”.
“I have lost everything in this battle. Mamata Banerjee became the chief minister because of us, and we got nothing,” said Gopal Kayal, a 67-year-old farmer, who lost seven bighas of land.
The land at Singur, which the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, sought to reclaim, was one of Banerjee's first major move after she became chief minister last year, empowering her government to take back 400 acres from Tata Motors for the Nano small car project.
|‘NULL & VOID’
- The Singur Act is a law relating to acquisition and it appears that without having assent from the President of India, it is hit by Article 254(1) of the Constitution of India.
- The provisions of Sections 3, 4(3), 5 and 6 of the impugned Act are in direct conflict with that of the Land Acquisition Act and thereby repugnant to the said Act.
- The Act is wholly in exercise of the power by the State under Entry 42, List III, of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution. Hence, there was acquisition of land leased out to the Tatas and possessory right of the vendors.
- The Act cannot be treated as for a public purpose, when the intention is to return the land to owners/farmers unwilling to sell.
- The Court has no jurisdiction to insert, in the guise of interpretation of statute, or rewrite/recast/reframe the same as held by the Supreme Court.
- In summary, The Singur Land Rehabilitation & Development Act, 2011, is held to be unconstitutional and void, since it does not have assent from the President of India.
A number of farmers had not accepted the compensation for their land at Singur. The Trinamool Congress chief had promised to return their land to them.
Kayal is one of the many farmers in Singur who are finally willing to bid goodbye to their lands. “I would have sold my land to (Ratan) Tata had the violence not happened. I will still sell it to him, if only I get the right price,” Kayal said.
At best, the unwilling farmers are entitled to the compensation at rates on offer six years back.
According to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, “Land once acquired for a public purpose cannot be returned to its original owners”.
“We have now been reduced to begging for rice from the state government. But the 2 kg rice they send us is not enough to sustain families of five people,” said Champa Das, wife of a farmer who lost his land.
Champa Das added Chief Minister Banerjee had chosen to completely ignore Singur since she reached Writers’ Building. “She has reached the top, she can no longer see us as the people she has left behind at the bottom.”
A sharecropper who now has no work, and no rights to compensation, said: “None of us now have the money to repair broken houses. The monsoon is upon us, and we are fast coming close to losing even the roof from above our heads.”
Not everybody, however, shares Champa Das’ views on Banerjee.
“She has always been with us. She has now made provisions to ensure we do not go hungry and the movement goes on,” said Mahadev Das, a farmer and a local Trinamool Congress leader.
The state government has decided to give Rs 1,000 per month to every son and daughter of a registered land loser. Also, the family of unwilling farmers will get eight kg of rice at Rs 2 per month.
However, even on paper, the scheme will be implemented in July. For now, the farmers in Singur, along with their families, are reliant on work being given under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
Apparently recognising the importance of NREGS work, the government has pro-actively been implementing the scheme. According to central government data, of the 9,050 households that demanded work in Singur, 9,044 were provided employment till June 2012.
“Yes, it is work and some money. But it is physically exhausting labour, which many women cannot undertake. Also, we are being paid just Rs 120 a day, where we should be paid Rs 136. Moreover, the money is often not given on time,” said another woman.