Singur land can neither be used for cultivation nor for non-agricultural business, but Mamata Banerjee made a pre-election promise to farmers and she should keep it.
DIPANKAR DASGUPTA" height="83" alt="DIPANKAR DASGUPTA" hspace="5" width="68" align="left" src="/newsimgfiles/2011/june/07062011/060811_01.jpg" />DIPANKAR DASGUPTA
Former Professor of Economics, Indian Statistical Institute
The reason the Singur project is not likely to yield much fruit is that few industrialists will wish to locate themselves in that area
Singur, if anything, is probably a lost cause now. First, one doesn’t know the use to which the land returned to the “unwilling farmers” will be put. Despite affirmations to the contrary, it is doubtful if the land is suitable for farming anymore. Beneficiaries of the policy reversal will either employ the land for non-agricultural purposes or sell it. Both options could act against their interest, the arguments for which will be outlined below.
The second reason the Singur project is not likely to yield much fruit, at least in the near future, is that few industrialists will wish to locate themselves in that area. “Unwilling” is not an attribute that applies to farmers alone.
Let us consider the two reasons in reverse order. The history of Singur still looms large in West Bengal’s recent industrial history. An industrialist as powerful as Ratan Tata moved out after completing 80 per cent of the construction work for a world-class factory. Investors will, therefore, hesitate till there is convincing proof that the climate is now industry-friendly.
In the meantime, what will happen to the erstwhile farmers? Consider the “willing” farmers first. If their willingness to part with the land was prompted by employment promises in industry and the projected mini-industrial township around it, they have surely been disappointed. Neither has a factory come up nor are they tilling the land. The picture, of course, is not entirely gloomy, for they had received their cheques. One does not know clearly how they had used the compensation money. Those who had used the money wisely were hurt less than the others.
Assume, however, that a factory does come up in the not-too-distant future. Assume further that the draconian 1894 Land Acquisition Act is amended in favour of the “unwilling” farmers. Industrial development in the area will push up land prices and the returned land will presumably be sold at prices much higher than what the “willing” farmers had accepted. To compensate them, private investors should probably be required to make up for the difference between the market price offered to the “unwilling” group and the acquisition price received by the “willing” group.
This step could remove the possibility of a class struggle arising from the social distinction between “willing” and “unwilling farmers”. Quite obviously, discontent alone will not materialise into a mass movement in the absence of political leadership. Can a leadership evolve at all? Going back to the days when the Singur movement began, the leadership was provided by a single individual whom the Leftists did not consider an opponent worth reckoning. Their calculations were grossly incorrect as was proved on May 13, 2011. But the Leftists have learnt their lesson now. They are less snooty and have a readymade textbook to fall back on, one that was written by their detractors. Organising a movement could be further facilitated by the fact that the number of people constituting the “willing” is substantially larger than the ones belonging to the “unwilling” class.
Potential industrialists will, therefore, be watching. If the Left has truly been wiped out, Singur will probably send out a positive message. If not, the “unwilling” farmers will actually stand to lose. The land returned to them will be neither cultivable nor gainfully employable for non-agricultural business in the absence of overall development in the area. Worse, its market price could nose-dive, possibly to levels lower even than what the willing farmers had received. Finally, the state will lose too, since it is steady revenue from industry alone that can rescue it from its financial woes.
Scrapping the inhuman 1894 Act will probably be the only positive fallout of the Singur movement. India as a whole will gain from this, even if Singur does not.
Union Minister of State, Urban Development
Naturally, as chief minister, Banerjee would want to keep her election promise and return the land to the unwilling land-losers
Yes. Mamata Banerjee should return Singur land to land losers. It was her demand during the Singur agitation and also her pre-election commitment to the people of the state. Now that the people have elected her chief minister she should keep this commitment. A brief backgrounder will explain why.
The Left Front government bought 1,000 acres in Singur, an hour’s drive from Kolkata, for Tata Motors to build a small-car factory. The farmers of the area protested and sought Mamata Banerjee’s leadership for their movement against the acquisition. Despite this, the state government went ahead and formally issued a notification to acquire the land. It started the process of distributing cheques to those farmers who were willing to part with their land on September 25, 2006. That day, Banerjee sat in protest in front of the office of the Block Development Officer. The police, under instruction from the chief minister at the time, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, lathi-charged the crowd that had assembled there, evicted Banerjee and sent her back to Kolkata. A “Bangla bandh” was called in protest against this police action on October 1, 2006. All this happened just before the festival season.
After the festival season, farmers restarted their agitation under the leadership of the Krishi Jami Banchao Committee. The police prevented Banerjee from entering Singur on November 30, 2006 on grounds that curfew had been imposed in the entire district (Singur comes under Hooghly district). On December 2, 2006, the police tear-gassed and lathi-charged protesting farmers and took possession of their land. Curfew was lifted a few months later after the high court intervened.
Banerjee then started an indefinite fast at the Metro Channel in Kolkata from December 4, 2006, reiterating the demand that land be returned to unwilling land-losers. The hunger strike was called off after 26 days following assurances from the prime minister and the chief minister and a request from the president. But the chief minister did not keep his word, even though he had written Banerjee four letters during her fast calling for negotiations.
Although Tata Motors started work at Singur after it was given possession, the farmers’ agitation continued intermittently. Banerjee then started an indefinite “mass dharna” in front of the factory walls in August 2008. On the intervention of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, then governor of West Bengal, a series of meetings were held at Raj Bhavan between the government and the opposition led by Banerjee. It was agreed by both sides that land would be returned to the unwilling farmers and Tata Motors could build its factory in the remaining area. But the chief minister went back on his word and said the Tata group would not agree to return 400 acres. Ultimately, Tata Motors withdrew its project from Singur and set up the Nano factory in Sanand, Gujarat. This is the position as it stands today.
Naturally, as chief minister, Banerjee would want to keep her election promise and return the land to the unwilling land-losers. This was something to which the previous government had agreed. Banerjee has said Tata Motors can still build its factory on the 600 acres available to it and she intends to stick to that position. On land acquisition, her general position is that the government should not acquire any land on behalf of private industry anywhere. Industry can buy land from the farmers directly with their consent. The Trinamool Congress feels that this should be the policy of land acquisition throughout the country and the obsolete Land Acquisition Act should be dispensed with.