Mamata gives physical possession of land to Singur farmers

Singur, Oct 20 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday handed over physical possession of land to a section of the cultivators of this rural belt.

She also kicked off the process of cultivation in a symbolic gesture by sowing mustard seed.

Ten years ago, the state’s erstwhile Left Front government had acquired land for Tata Motors’ Nano project in this pocket of Hooghly district, amid violent peasant protests, as many of them were unwilling to part with their land.

However, with the handing back of the land to farmers, the circle is complete, as Banerjee asked the peasants to resume cultivation on their respective plots.

Returning here five weeks after she gave land documents to the farmers on September 14, Banerjee sprayed the seeds over a plot at Gopalpur and interacted with the farmers on how they planned to cultivate their land.

“I understand the farmers’ job well, because I had close connection with village life as a youngster. The crop that the farmers can cultivate immediately is mustard. So, according to the cultivators’ priority, we have given them the kit to grow mustard.

“After some time, they will grow potatoes, and then paddy. In this way, they will cultivate multiple crops,” said Banerjee, who had spearheaded the anti-land acquisition protests from 2006-2008.

As the supremo of then principal opposition party Trinamool Congress, Banerjee had staked all during the movement, as she undertook a 26-day hunger-strike and then held a 16-day sit-in, demanding 400 acres out of the 997.11 acres acquired for the project be returned to those farmers who did not want to part with their land.

A division bench of Justices Arun Mishra and V Gopala Gowda of the Supreme Court on August 31 directed that land be returned to the farmers of Singur within 12 weeks. The court-stipulated time-frame will expire by November-end.

Banerjee said: “By November 10, we will hand over the entire land to the peasants. Share-croppers and agricultural labourers will also get their share.”

She claimed that 932 acres of land has already been made cultivable, while work is going on to develop the remaining 65 acres.

“Of these 65 acres, 36 acre land has concrete, pillars and lots of metals due to the construction done on it. But we have decided that we will make this part of the land cultivable too.

“Save greenery, create greenery and bring smiles in Singur again is our theme. For those who wanted to save their agricultural land, it is a dream that has come true,” she said.

Banerjee told the officials to ensure the job of making the land cultivable is finished by November 10, preferably by November 8.

“I am sure that as far as the issue of agricultural land is concerned, Singur will be the model for the world,” she added.

Praising her officials, the Chief Minister said fresh land is being demarcated daily. “This is a very big task and a tough job.”

She pointed to the demolished ceiling of the abandoned Nano plant and said two artificial waterbodies dug in the area would also be filled up.

“90 per cent of the job is over. We will reward all the officials and employees involved at a later date for their excellent teamwork.”

In a reference to those plot holders who still remain untraced, Banerjee said: “There were a lot of irregularities earlier (during Left Front regime). Many people had taken cheques fraudulently. So, now they are untraced.”

Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, who played a key role in the entire process of return of land, said the government has distributed 10,436 land records, while about 2,300 records are yet to be distributed.

“4,443 farmers have collected cheques so far. Out of 997.11 acres, we have brought 931 acres under the distribution ambit,” Chatterjee said.

In October 2008, Tata Sons’ then Chairman Ratan Tata announced shifting the project out of Singur, and months later Nano got its home in Gujarat’s Sanand.

The protests upped Trinamool’s political graph, and it rode to power in the state in 2011, ending 34 years of Left Front rule.