By Dr. Abdul Ruff
On September 02, a two judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered a much awaited judgment on the Singur land acquisition case. Calling the then Left led state government’s acquisition of 900 acres of land for Tata’s Nano plant a “colorable exercise of power and a fraud on the people”, the judges have ordered that all the land be returned to the owners within 12 weeks.
Here is a comprehensive timeline of events beginning from Ratan Tata’s announcement of the small car project in May 2006 followed by protests and resistance by farmers who alleged forcible acquisition in December of the same year when Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee went on an indefinite hunger strike in support of their struggle.
It has been a decade since images of the violence in Singur, and later Nandigram, haunted us but for many of those affected, most of them small farmers and agricultural workers, the verdict is a victory.
The judgment has been scathing in its vindication of the CPM led Left government pointing to lapses in several procedures that ought to have been undertaken as per the Land Acquisition Act.
This report in quotes the relevant part of the judgment – State government is required to apply mind to the report of the collector and take the final decision on the objections filed by the landowners and other interested persons. Then and then only, a declaration can be made under Section 6(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (L.A. Act).
In this case there seems to be no application of mind either at the stage of issuance of the notification under Section 4 of the L.A. Act, or the report of collector under Section 5-A (2) of the L.A. Act or the issuance of the final notification under Section 6 of the L.A. Act. While Section 4 of the Act required a notice to be published in the gazette that land is to be acquired, Section 5-A (2) allows those interested in the land to give objections in writing to the collector and requires the government to take note of the same.
Quoting from the petitions of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights and others who opposed the land acquisition, this report in the First Post says elaborates on the contentions of the farmers and those who lost their lands – Acquisition of the Singur land for public purpose and then handing it over to Tata Motors for its Nano project was illegal and in breach of land acquisition law. The association had told the court that there was a separate procedure under the land acquisition law for acquiring land for a project of a private company, and that the land acquired by the government for public purposes could be given to a private company only for constructing dwelling units of the workers employed with it and no other purpose.
However, this report by Krishnadas Rajagopal points out that the two judges differed on whether the land acquired could qualify as public purpose. While Justice Gowda felt that the acquisition “For and at the instance of the company was sought to be disguised as acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ in order to circumvent compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Land Acquisition Act’, Justice Mishra differed.
Small car industry would have “ultimately benefited” the people and the very purpose of industrialization. The factory would have opened up job opportunities in the State and attracted investment. Regarding procedural issues too, the bench was divided. While Justice Gowda said that individual notices ought to have been issued, Justice Mishra felt that a common gazette notification sufficed.
Despite these differences, the judgment has sent out a strong message about (communist scheme) development at the cost of the poor – In this day and age of fast paced development, it is completely understandable for the state government to want to acquire lands to set up industrial units.
What, however, cannot be lost sight of is the fact that when the brunt of this ‘development’ is borne by the weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural laborers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state government.
Rise of Mamata Banerjee
For too long the Congress party that had lost power to communists decades ago tried to wrestle it back but failed. Now a former Congress leader and central minister Mamata Banerjee with her own Congress faction called Trinamool Party has come p to power replacing a formidable Left dispensation as Bengalese rejected Communist opportunism and betrayal. In a way, the foolish communist leaders in the state promoted him imminent arrival of Mamata Banerjee as a historic phenomenon. .
Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s ascent to power in the state, after ousting the Left, had much to do with the struggle in Singur. Banerjee relentlessly protested the “communist” acquisition of the land while firmly asserting that her party was not anti-industry and the 400 acres of land belonging to the ‘unwilling farmers’ should be returned to them. Her “Save Farmland” movement was supported by various environmental activists and intellectuals.
The ruling Trinamool Congress is celebrating and understandably so, because the court has also ruled that the farmers who have received compensation need not return it as they have been deprived of their livelihood for the last decade. In fact, soon after the TMC came to power, Singur Land and Rehabilitation Bill was enacted.
A case testing the constitutional validity of this law, while still pending before the Supreme Court is likely to become “fructuous” given the present judgment. The Tatas, who shifted shop to Gujarat in 2008, cited this reason to remain mute on the subject.
Deception and lose of brains
There is a possibility that Tata Motors could sue the state government for breach of contract. The company issued a statement to that effect. “Political parties may change but the government is a continuity. The company willingly gambled and took lease of the illegal land in good faith. But it now is clear that they were given a bad land title. The company may seek compensation on that ground that the company had valued its loss at Rs.1400 crores (their petition to the Calcutta High Court in 2011).
India Inc however has been more cautious in their reactions. The Singur verdict will not impact the potential of the State in attracting investment. This is, of course, the official statement. Privately, a prominent industrialist pointed out that the Tata Nano episode already served a major blow to the investment potential and there is nothing more to lose.
The relocation took place at a time when Bengal was in the spotlight of investors in India and abroad, seeking investments in the state with lucrative promises to willing investors. . . It also pressed the pause button on Bengal’s dream to emerge as an auto hub. The same article also asserts that the biggest loser, politically, is the CPM. CPI (M)’s vote and seat share is declining at an alarming rate since the 2009 general election.
Efforts to revive the industrialization agenda in the 2016 Assembly election failed miserably. What’s more, post-election they are losing elected representatives to Trinamool.
The CPI(M)’s reaction to the verdict is simple as it is not opposed to the decision of returning land to farmers but had contested her (Mamata’s) 2011 move on some technical loopholes. “Today’s verdict has not answered questions on the legality of the Singur legislation her government had brought, which is what we were opposed to.”
The BJP which lost its chances once for all in the state with Mamata’s arrival, was quick to point out the Left’s double speak. Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP leader in the state, has been quoted saying – The Left opposed our central government’s land acquisition Bill. It said land should be acquired only for public purpose, but in Singur its government had acquired it for a private purpose to promote Tata Company. So, the Left must explain”.
JD United leader Shyam Rajak said that the judgment sends a strong message to the Centre which has been enacting anti people policies. “We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court. This was a fight for the rights of the poor. This decision will ensure that the farmers retain their livelihood. I hope the verdict will send out a positive signal. There are lots of cases – be it Narmada Andolan, or be it about Tehri dam issue which has been fighting for the cause of the poor. The SC should also review these cases as well”.
Not only the left parties but also the Congress and BJP that get plenty of lose findings form corporate lords are worried that their multinational corporate beneficiaries are not happy.
Honoring concerns of common folk
Ever since independence in 1947, Indian rulers, Congress, BJP, others have been relentlessly pampering corporate lords and rich classes to get bribes from them. This has badly affected the fortunes of common people, Muslims suffering the worst. .
Left government West Bengal just took people for granted and launched grand capitalist agenda by looting the agricultural lands for the purposes of increasing surplus values of corporate lords against basics communist pimples. That cost very dearly for the communist parties in the state as they lost the general polls, both parliament and state assembly- to a new Trinamool party of dynamic Mamata Banerjee.
People of India, through the people of Singur have won a great battle against illegal transaction over farmers’ lands and subsequent forceful occupation and exposed communist movement in the country as a false and pretentious one to exploit the weak sections of the nation in their favor.
Supreme Court order, a huge though belated victory and vindication for the courageous peasants of Singur against corporate land grab, should serve as final warning to leftist parties in India to pursue only people’s concerns and not to help promote capitalist agenda primarily because left parties are supposed to be anti-capitalism and fight for the common people and their genuine requirements. They should if required read Marx who wrote in volumes about surplus values.
Nano judgment against government’s immoral dead with capitalists is yet another feather in the Apex Court’s jurisprudence and will go a long in strengthening the power of common people in Indian political arrangement.