Singur, six years later

Kenneth Bo Nielsen, SUM, UiO

Photo: Kenneth B. Nielsen

It is now almost exactly six years to the day when Singur in West Bengal shot to national fame. On 12 May 2006 the then Chief Minister of the state, Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya, announced that Tata Motors would set up a small car manufacturing unit in West Bengal; and about a week later he confirmed that Singur would be the future home of the factory. As is well know, the acquisition of agricultural land that the project entailed produced fierce resistance from local land owners, who formed a movement that would prove instrumental in bringing about the demise of the Left Front in 2011. Today, however, Singur rarely makes the headlines any more. But that does not mean that all is now well.

The movement against the government’s land acquisition in Singur began almost the minute when local land owners learned that they stood to loose their land to the Tata’s project. Those farmers who were unwilling to surrender their land in lieu of cash – labelled ‘unwilling farmers’ by the press – organised a movement to prevent the land acquisition from going ahead. In this they were unsuccessful: in December 2006 the government acquired 997 acres of land in Singur under heavy police cover.
But the Singur controversy nonetheless succeeded in severely denting the image of the Left Front as the bitter irony of the situation was not lost to the public: a pro-poor, pro-peasant government had now turned against its own people as it sought to pave the way for private corporate capital which, as it turned out, it was generously subsidising as well. Moreover, many Bengalis were appalled by the state’s use of force and violence during the land acquisition. Events in Nandigram some months later only reaffirmed the impression that the Left Front had become increasingly brutal and arrogant in its dealings with its own people. The Trinamul Congress, then the main opposition party in the state, moved in to provide leadership and organisation to the movements in Singur, Nandigram and elsewhere in the state; and by 2011 the political momentum gathered by the Trinamul was so massive that it was able to oust the Left Front from power for the first time since 1977.
Yet while Singur has thus made an impact on the macro-politics of West Bengal, little has changed on the ground for those farmers who lost their land, and who took part in the movement from 2006 onwards. In 2008 the mass mobilisation of local farmers and TMC activists from across the state in front of the factory gate generated such heat that Ratan Tata, the Chairman of the Tata Group, announced that he was henceforth abandoning his plans for Singur because he could not, as he put it, operate a factory under such ‘hostile local conditions’. Tata’s departure for a while raised local hopes that the acquired land would be returned to its erstwhile owners, but this did not happen: the Left Front had no plans in this regard, and Tata Motors kept on renewing their lease on the land by paying INR 90 lakh annually to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. The land thus remained off limits to the farmers, and in the de facto possession of Tata Motors and the government.

The farmers had also, already in 2006, challenged the validity of the land acquisition in the Calcutta High Court, but this legal move has so far failed to produce any results. In 2008 the High Court declared that the acquisition of land in Singur in 2006 had taken place in accordance with the letter of the law (the law being the 1894 Land Acquisition Act) and was hence legal. The farmers promptly appealed the case to the Supreme Court where it is still pending – along with more than 31 million other cases which are stuck in various stages of progress in courts across the country. And given the fact that it takes upwards of 15 years on average to decide a court case in India, a verdict from the Supreme Court may not be immediately forthcoming.

When the Trinamul Congress took over from the Left Front in 2011, Mamata Banerjee, the new Chief Minister, announced that a solution to the Singur imbroglio topped her agenda for her first 100 days in office. Her government moved quickly to enact the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act which would enable the return of a portion of the acquired land to the unwilling farmers. Tata Motors moved equally swiftly to challenge the legality of the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act in the Calcutta High Court, which ruled in favour of the government. But Tata Motors immediately appealed the decision. In the mean time the Supreme Court issued a stay on the redistribution of land in Singur. And the appeals case too is still pending before the court.

In Singur, six years down the road the ‘unwilling farmers’ still have neither land, nor have they received financial compensation; and many of them struggle to make ends meet. Many of them were, incidentally, not against industry in Singur per se. They just did not want industry at the cost of agriculture. But now they have neither. A recent report in the Hindustan Times suggests that ‘bitterness is in the air’ among the unwilling farmers, who complain that Mamata Banerjee, who reportedly visited Singur 38 times between 2006 and 2011, has not gone there even once after becoming Chief Minister.

But not only the unwilling farmers are finding the going tough. The removal of the 997 acres of agricultural land from the local economic equation has negatively affected the earning opportunities of thousands of local agricultural labourers, who now have to travel long distances to find work. Even those farmers who – more or less eagerly – handed over their land to Tata Motors are unhappy with the present scenario. Many had been promised jobs in the new factory, but these jobs have all but evaporated. Others had hoped that many new local business and employment opportunities would emerge in the wake of the Tata project, but with Tata’s departure, economic activity in the factory area has virtually come to a halt.

When I lived in Singur on and off between 2007 and 2009, many unwilling farmers took great pride in the fact that their movement had brought the plight of farmers hit by forced land acquisition to the attention of an entire nation. Having made their mark on both regional and national politics, they expected these larger political transformations to eventually feed back into Singur for the better. Six years down the road they still wait in vain.

6 Comments on Singur, six years later

  1. asit guin // 20. juni 2012 at 10:17 // Svar

    Are we all nuts! In the TANSI case (Tamilnadu) the Apex court ruled unequivocally that once a land is acqusitioned as per law the Govt has no authority to return the land to the land owner under any pretext! Since the compensation is paid from public money the Govt must auction the land and sell it to the highest bidder and the proceeed should go the exchequer. Are party leaders now over and above the judiciary!

  2. asit guin // 15. mai 2013 at 10:41 // Svar

    Tapasi’s father and brother might have had something to do with her murder. Tapasi’s unnatural death was cloudy and complicated. The CBI has become suspicious of the statements made by Tapasi’s father Monoranjan and brother Surajit. They did not own any plot of land at all. Nor they did till any land anywhere. Monoranjan was a member of the rural poor of the Singur village of Bajeymelia who eked out a living through selling fishes from a pavement stall and he had indeed lined up before the block level offices of the state government requesting for a job. But, Monoranjan and Tapasi were dubbed by commercial media as leading activists of the save agricultural land committee. Both Tapasi’s father and brother have something to hide with her murder.

  3. asit guin // 8. oktober 2013 at 07:47 // Svar

    What happened to tapasi malik case? Regarding Tapasi Malik case, we have reason to doubt that what really happened and whether lies are practiced or not? Her parent’s role is suspected. They are hiding some facts. CBI once released sketches of the four prime accused in the case related to Tapasi Malik in Singur. Releasing the sketches, CBI Superintendent of Police A K Sahai had said, «The sketches have been drawn on the basis of the interrogation of people and they will be distributed all over the country.» Though the CBI declined to disclose details about the accused, it announced a cash reward of Rs one lakh for anybody who could provide information about them. Where these sketches had gone? Tapasi’s father and brother might have had something to do with her murder. Tapasi’s unnatural death was cloudy and complicated. The CBI has become suspicious of the statements made by Tapasi’s father Monoranjan and brother Surajit. They did not own any plot of land at all. Nor they did till any land anywhere. Monoranjan was a member of the rural poor of the Singur village of Bajeymelia who eked out a living through selling fishes from a pavement stall and he had indeed lined up before the block level offices of the state government requesting for a job. But, Monoranjan and Tapasi were dubbed by commercial media as leading activists of the save agricultural land committee. Both Tapasi’s father and brother have something to hide with her murder.

  4. Let us collect the data regarding number of farmers in Bengal and area of cultivable land available. Per capita land for the farmers is clear proof that Bengal can no longer support this many farmers by this much land. So, half of the farmers have to change profession and one percent of the farming land has to sacrifice for industries. Left front’s action in detail may need revision, but their overall policy is mathematically correct. There was no farmer suicide in Bengal in last 34 years. Who will explain it? The 34 years is the story of Bengal success in agriculture. When govt initiated the process of industrialization based on agri-success, enemies of Bengal spoiled it.

  5. Nandigram Police firing: पूर्व मुख्यमंत्री बुद्धदेव को क्लीनचिट

    कोलकाता/ब्यूरो। नंदीग्राम में पुलिस फायरिंग की घटना में सीबीआई ने पश्चिम बंगाल के पूर्व मुख्यमंत्री और माकपा के वरिष्ठ नेता बुद्धदेव भट्टाचार्य को क्लीनचिट दे दी है। वर्ष 2007 में 14 मार्च की घटना में हाईकोर्ट ने 17 मार्च को सीबीआई जांच कराने का निर्देश दिया था। तब पुलिस की गोली से 14 जनों की मौत हो गई थी।
    मौजूदा ममता बनर्जी सरकार ने सीबीआई से प्रकरण में भट्टाचार्य की भूमिका की जांच की मांग की थी। सीबीआई ने राज्य सरकार को बताया कि घटना में भट्टाचार्य का हाथ होने का कोई साक्ष्य नहीं मिला है। सीबीआई ने रिपोर्ट राज्य सरकार को भेज दी है। सीबीआई ने बंगाल सरकार से घटना के दौरान तैनात 12 पुलिस व प्रशासनिक अधिकारियों के खिलाफ कार्रवाई की सिफारिश की थी।
    इनमें से तीन के खिलाफ सीबीआई ने राज्य सरकार से अकारण गोली चलाने के लिए चार्ज लगाने की अनुमति मांगी थी। अन्य नौ के खिलाफ कड़ी कार्रवाई की सिफारिश की गई थी। सीबीआई के संयुक्त निदेशक अरुण बोथरा द्वारा भेजी गई रिपोर्ट की राज्य का गृह विभाग जांच कर रहा है।
    माना जा रहा है कि राज्य सरकार यह रिपोर्ट कानूनी सलाह के लिए विधि विभाग को भेजेगी। सरकार फिलहाल किसी पुलिस अधिकारी के खिलाफ चार्जशीट पेश करने की इजाजत देने में जल्दबाजी के मूड में नहीं है।

  6. In the last election of 2011, left front got 41.4 % vote and Trinamool and Congress combined got 48 % vote. The difference in vote percentage was only around 6% but as we are enjoying a single representation system, this 6 % has inflicted a difference of about 170 MLAs. Since Congress has deserted Trinamool ministry, and it got around 10% vote poled, the Trinamool is only 38 % strong a party, whereas Left front enjoys a strength of 42%, which is 4% more than Trinamool. Hence, it is a minority government in Bengal as pointed out by Miss Banerjee that Congress has a minority government at centre hence it has no right to take any major economic decisions. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee wanted to prove that she was the best Railway minister in the world, having complete knowledge of locomotives and mechanical engineering, running ministry apart. Once the best railway minister, so she will be the best CM. If she is not by chance, who has more than one heads on his shoulder to say that she is not a good CM? How can poor Buddhadebji come anywhere near her? First of all he is not a doctorate from foreign country. Secondly he is not even a barrister like Mamata, though Basu was a mere briefcase barrister, Didi said, Bhattacharya is merely a poet of average merit. Well, Railway was put to ICU by her. Now it will earn a bit but no Trinamool obstructed trains. Then why did they leave railway ministry unnecessarily? It may take some more months to put Bengal into ICU. People are much more educated now. They will do the right thing at the right hour.

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