Kolkata: The Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government will take back land from Tata Motors Ltd and its component suppliers that was controversially acquired by the previous government of the state from farmers in Singur.
The previous government seized land from farmers by using Land Acquisition Act, 1894; the current one is making a new law to reclaim it without giving any hearing to the companies that now possess it.
Commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee will on Tuesday introduce a Bill in the West Bengal legislative assembly—the first by the Trinamool Congress government— to cancel allotment of land to Tata Motors and its component suppliers.
Land was allotted by the Left Front government in 2007 to enable Tata Motors to build its Nano car factory. The company pulled the plug on the project in October 2008 because of violent protests against land acquisition spearheaded by the Trinamool Congress, then the principal opposition party in the state.
After seizing the land, the state government proposes to return a part of it to “unwilling owners”, or those “who have not accepted compensation”, according to the Bill, which was reviewed by Mint. An abridged version of the Bill was circulated among the state’s legislators on Monday.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had said on 20 May, the day she was sworn in, that her government would return 400 acres to people who did not receive compensation on protest.
The Bill doesn’t specify how much land will be returned, and it seems even “absentee landlords” could benefit from it, said a official of the land and land reforms (L&LR) department, who did not want to be named.
According to L&LR department records, payment wasn’t concluded to owners of around 296 acres because of different reasons. The state government couldn’t make payment to owners of around 51.6 acres because of disputes over ownership, the L&LR department official said.
“Similarly, we couldn’t complete payment to co-owners of some 91 acres because they were found to live abroad,” he said. Co-owners of these plots, particularly those who live in India, received compensation.
“From the first reading of the Bill, it appears that they (people who did not receive compensation because they live abroad), too, would receive land under the proposed law,” he said.
Owners of about 153 acres did not receive any compensation at all in protest against forcible land acquisition, according to the L&LR department official. But the benefits of the new law could be enjoyed by many others going by the definition of “unwilling owners” under the Bill.
The government had concluded payment to over 10,800 owners from among 13,103 claimants. Partial payment was made to owners of over 200 acres, and payment concluded to owners of at least 576.34 acres.
Dispelling speculation, the Bill says the land is to be returned to erstwhile owners from the plot allotted to Tata Motors’s component makers. What remains with the state government, including the plot leased out to the car maker, will be used by the state government for “socio-economic development, employment generation, industry and for other public purposes”.
Banerjee had said on 20 May that Tata Motors was welcome to use 600 acres of the 647 acres leased out to it, but the car maker could get more than that if it wishes to return to Singur.
The government, however, doesn’t seem to have any hope of persuading Tata Motors to return to the state. It says in the Bill that it took the decision to reclaim the Singur land because four years have passed since the land was allotted to the car maker and the “object (of leasing land to it) has totally failed”.
The Bill says Tata Motors will be compensated for its investment on the abandoned factory, which was almost ready to start rolling out cars when the company decided to move the factory to Sanand in Gujarat. The amount will be determined by the district judge of Hooghly.
However, Tata Motors’ component suppliers, referred to as vendors in the Bill, are not to be compensated for their sunk cost—the state government is to only refund the premium paid by them at the time of the allotment of the land in 2007. The state government did not conclude lease agreements with any of these so-called vendors.
“This unequal treatment could lead to court cases,” said a leading Kolkata-based lawyer, who didn’t want to be identified. Also, the Bill doesn’t specify the mechanism of returning land, so there could be disputes over who gets which tract, he said. “Clearly some parts of the land earmarked for being returned would be of greater commercial value than the rest.”