Kolkata: In anticipation that a division bench of the Calcutta high court will deliver its verdict this week on the dispute between the West Bengal government and Tata Motors Ltd over the acquisition of the car maker’s abandoned Singur factory, the Hooghly district administration has prepared the legal documents to restore possession of at least 135 acres to 815 local farmers.
The district administration has, so far, recognized the claims of at least 1,000 farmers from among 3,000 applicants to restore ownership of up to 256 acres, according to Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the state’s agriculture minister and the Trinamool Congress legislator from Singur. “There ownership of around 50 acres appears to be disputed,” he said.
As the state’s principal opposition party until last year, Trinamool Congress opposed the forcible acquisition of farmland for Tata Motors’ proposed Nano car factory at Singur and demanded that at least 400 acres be returned to the farmers. Tata Motors had told the court that it was the “violent opposition” by Trinamool Congress that forced it to pull the plug on the project in October 2008, and move it to Sanand in Gujarat.
If the appeals court verdict goes in favour of the state government, it will immediately try to distribute the deeds, or legal documents, among the farmers, restoring their ownership, or so-called raiyati rights, according to a land and land reforms department official, who did not wish to be identified. “People in Singur are getting impatient,” he said.
“We are waiting for the verdict of the (appeals) court,” said Sripriya Rangarajan, district magistrate of Hooghly. “Identification of plots (for being returned) was done earlier, and that’s where the matter stands.”
To be sure, the judges of the division bench haven’t committed to give their verdict on Friday though hearings ended in mid-April. A section of state government lawyers are concerned that the court may not pass its verdict until after the summer vacation, which starts on Saturday.
The dispute arose from the promulgation of a law in June last year under which the state government seized soon thereafter the 997-acre complex allotted to Tata Motors and its component suppliers. The car maker challenged the controversial law in the Calcutta high court, which ruled that it wasn’t invalid, while suggesting corrective measures to strengthen it.
The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act passed last year said land would be returned to people who did not receive compensation from the state government for the land seized from them, naming such persons based on official land records. It was eventually found that many people on the list given in the Act had died and that the land records had not been updated to include their heirs.
Local gram panchayat, or village council, officials were asked to consider the applications submitted by the heirs of deceased land owners. “The panchayat is best placed to appraise such applications,” said Dudh Kumar Dhara, the head of Beraberi gram panchayat. Village council officials were lenient, according to Dhara, in issuing certificates in support of such claims.