Land sharks’ Glee in Singur Festival Surya Misra

May 23rd, 2019 [IST]

The Supreme Court has recently invalidated the process of land acquisition at Singur aimed for an automobile factory of Tata Motors by the erstwhile Left Front government of West Bengal. This has been hailed by the Trinamool Congress-led government as a great victory for its supreme leader Mamata Bannerjee and celebrations have been ordered to be held at every locality in the state. Such is the ecstasy of the TMC led government that the state education minister has gone overboard to declare that “Singur struggle” shall be included in the history curriculum for the school students in the future. All these fanfare appears to be a last rite of any possible future of industrialization and employment generation in this state.

No matter how much it is sought to be portrayed as a closed chapter, the last nail is yet to be hammered on the issue. In its order spanning over 204 pages, the Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court had listed nine points of facts and law for their consideration which are spelt out at paragraphs 72-73 of the said order. Out of these, the Hon’ble Judges have been able to attain consensus only on three issues comprising only one and half pages out of 204 pages of the verdict. Further, leave has been granted to file appeal against the said order. In this context it is pertinent to note that a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court vide an order dated 18th January 2008 had upheld the validity of the acquisition of land at Singur by the erstwhile government. Several other litigations pertaining to the said acquisition are pending till date for disposal. For instance the bill introduced by Mamata Bannerjee led government immediately on resumption of its office in 2011 to return the acquired land was held invalid by a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court and the same could not get the ascent from the President of India as well. The said issue has been referred to in the instant order of the Supreme Court but has not been adjudicated upon. We had warned the government even then that the bill would not stand the test of constitutionality. We had also advised the government not to discriminate between the farmers who had willingly sold their land to the government for setting up the said industrial project and those who did not. After TMC formed government in the state the possibility of coming up of the factory was remote and we advised the government to return lands to all, without any discrimination. In this regard we had provided concrete proposals to the government which would have been constitutionally acceptable. Now, with the Supreme Court verdict, the scope of the bill introduced earlier by Mamata Bannerjee for returning the land to the unwilling peasants is sealed as there is no more scope of any differentiation among owners.� �

What then is the cause for such festivity on the part of the Chief Minister? Is this her big victory? And, is it a big defeat for erstwhile Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government? �Without even waiting for the final fate of the acquired land at Singur, the Chief Minister and her associates have decided on the festivities. There are quite a few who have taken a somersault on their earlier positions on Singur issue and have joined the bandwagon with the present government. It is beyond the scope and objective here to narrate their earlier positions, but we cannot be chameleons changing our stand so frequently on such core issue.

We have been steadfast in our support towards industrialization and generation of employment. On the foundations of a strong agrarian platform, industrialization towards generation of employment has always been our aim. Like other developing nations, our country and our state should move toward employment-oriented industrialisation. �There is no alternative to the postulate that agriculture is our foundation, industry is our future. Subsequent to the Supreme Court verdict the Chief Minister has declared that West Bengal will become a favoured ‘destination’ for industries. It is ironical that she claims for fast industrialization of the state when under her stewardship agrarian crisis has aggravated, suicides by farmers have increased manifold, crumbling of industries from tea, jute to engineering �industries like Hindustan Motors have clearly demonstrated the final journey of industries in the state. Her path is of deindustrialisation.�� �Her path is of ‘syndicate-Raj’, extortion, of Saradha-Narada scams, dominance of land sharks, organised Mafia; the path of primitive accumulation of capital. This path entails systematic lumpenization of growing numbers of unemployed youth. This increasing lumpenization is manifesting itself inter alia in growing social crimes. The recent incident of brutal rape and murder of a minor girl in Kolkata is a result of this criminalization. The Chief Minister, however, is not concerned at all and is ready for festivities with all these things.

Left Front government had acquired the land at Singur for employment-oriented industrialization, for reducing the dependency on the agriculture and to boost investments in agriculture to strengthen it as well. �What did we understand by industrialization? It entails setting up and maintaining a balance amongst large, medium and small enterprises as none of the said sectors can advance on its own in the absence of another. Our policy was not to lose time in undue delays but to be mindful in sensitive areas such as acquisition of agricultural land along with proper implementation of details of the procedures for acquisition of land. It is nobody’s claim that the process was done without any errors or will be free from any shortcomings. It can hardly ever be so. But the present government has scant regards for legalities and propriety. The balance in industrial sectors and related issues are far cry now. This government is a breeder of anarchy, and a mere sponsor of festivities.

The case before the Supreme Court was filed against the government of West Bengal. Since the time of the acquisition till the disposal of the case, the government in West Bengal had changed. It was the agenda of the present government to lose the case. The fate of any such case significantly depends upon the willingness of the government to contest, whether it furnishes the appropriate documents/ evidence in its support etc. Any such step by the government has long term implications for the people at large, which cannot be contained by narrow sectarian agenda. For instance what shall be the stand of the government if there now be a demand for returning the land acquired for the airport recently inaugurated by the Chief Minister herself (which however has now shut down) in the same fashion as Singur?

The Left Front had always claimed that the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is ill equipped to safeguard the interests of the peasants and a radical overhaul of that act was necessary. �In this regard Left Front government had also effected amendments to the said Act for defending the interests of peasants and sharecroppers which had received the ascent of the President as well. The central government and some state governments had also brought some positive amendments in the Act. But, prior to enactment of the Act of 2013, this was the only regulatory framework under which land could be acquired by the state. It can not be asserted that all problems have been resolved by the enactment of new Act in 2013. Because the core questions are related with aim, direction and policies of land acquisition.��

While duly safeguarding the interests of the peasants, land have to be acquired for industries, projects in public interests and for creating infrastructure. The question is will there be no role of government in this process? Should there be no intervention from government? Should this process of such acquisition be left at the mercy of the land-sharks?

In the context of these questions the national and local questions must be considered. What is happening in other states? What is happening now in West Bengal? What will be the fate of other plots of land which were acquired by the erstwhile Left Front government? How land is being acquired now for roads and power sub stations? The people of West Bengal have been left completely at the mercy of the land-mafia by the present regime. There is a perceptible glee on the part of the land mafia, syndicate, promoters, and the private businesses of health and education services surrounding the ‘Singur Utsav’ declared by the Chief Minister. Does this not appear ominous for the people of the state? Those who got benefits from land business include top echelons of the ruling party, their close associates, siblings of the high and top. The cause of the joy can be gauged from the fact of quantum of properties amassed by these persons during the tenure of so-called ‘symbol of honesty’. Can anyone ever allege that such things happened to brothers and nephews of likes of Buddhadeb Bhattachajee in 34 years?

During the campaigns for the recently concluded assembly elections we had stated that we are in favour of settlement of any outstanding issues pertaining to Singur. �We wanted industrialization at Singur, Salboni, Raghunathpur while defending interests of the peasants. The 2.15 Crore voters who had voted against TMC and BJP in the said elections did consider these issues before casting their votes. It is also important to note that if the elections had been free and fair in its true sense and a swing of 4% of the votes polled might have altered the scenario.

The Chief Minister may well indulge in festivities on this verdict. She might as well initiate the survey of the acquired land but we will remind her of human –land too. �What shall be the fate of those who had received technical training and were eagerly waiting to join the project after its completion and operationalization? What explanation will be offered to them? How much of the land will be transformed as cultivable? What will the future of that land which is not cultivable at all? How will the government ensure continuous source of income and employment even to those whose land shall be returned? How shall it ensure that the land remain with the original owners and not siphoned off to the organisers of ‘Singur Utsav’? Or it will transfer to some other through them? �No matter the festivities Mamata Bannerjee and her government may indulge into, it’s still a long way to ameliorate the actual stakeholders at Singur.

The festive season in West Bengal is approaching but the state cannot afford to indulge in such festivities when the broader mass of the people are not in the mood of a festival in their daily life. That has been reflected during the strike of 2nd September.� As the proverb says, the night is long.

As for those who are now changing their colours for the sake of convenience, they may well exercise due caution in doing so.�