The high court division bench judgment striking down the state government legislation taking back the Singur land from the Tatas might be a blessing in disguise for the chief minister.
Stakeholders and others suggest digesting an unfavourable court judgment is probably much easier than distributing 400 acres to the those farmers of Singur who wanted to keep their land, was fraught with administrative challenges.
First, the land belonging to the “unwilling farmers” is scattered across the 997 acres leased to Tata Motors and the vendors. Since the state government decided to retain 600 acres and return 400 acres, the land identified naturally includes parcels of land owned by the “willing” farmers of Singur.
“I had given my land for a specific project. Had I known that my land would go to some farmer, I may not have given my land,” said Udayan Das, convenor of the Singur Shilpa Bachao Committee, a forum representing the “willing farmers”. This point was raised by his counsel before the HC bench.
Bikash Ranjan Bhattachar-jee, counsel representing those farmers who’d accepted the compensation cheques, had argued that if the Singur Act was allowed to be operative, then the wrongdoers (those who did not abide by the law) would get a better price for low-yielding land, taking advantage of the development of the land and its surroundings after setting up of the factory shed by Tata Motors.
The land in Singur could be categorised as both ‘sali’ or single crop and ‘sona’ or multi crop. According to Bhattacharjee, a handful of Sali land owners did not accept compensation and another group, irrespective of the quality of land, could not accept the compensation because of title disputes.
Das has another point, indicating the state government’s solution might not be entirely acceptable to the ‘unwilling’ farmers, as well. “The land along the highway is now priced at around Rs 1 lakh a cottah while in the interiors it’s Rs 30,000 a cottah. Will the people who originally held land along the highway agree for a land that is much less in value?” he asked.
Clearly, development around the region has led to appreciation in real estate prices. The compensation announced by the Left Front government for the Sali and Sona land was Rs 9-12 lakh an acre. The price prior to the announcement of the Tata Motors’ project was Rs 4.5 lakh an acre.
Bhattacharjee had suggested the entire land be returned to the original owners. “The Singur Act is not aimed at returning land. We had suggested alternatives when the Act was formulated, but they were not followed,” said Nirupam Sen, former commerce and industry minister.
The Trinamool Congress, however, does not foresee any problems in distributing the land. “The farmers know the land we have identified for distribution and they are okay with it,” said Sen’s successor, Partha Chatterjee. Ahead of the panchayat elections, the party has indicated it would leave no stone unturned to keep its promise to the unwilling farmers of Singur.