Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday promised to turn the clock back 10 years to make the entire 997-acre plot taken from farmers of Singur cultivable again, a day after the Supreme Court quashed the 2006 land acquisition to build a small car factory there.
This may cost “a bomb”, according to a cabinet minister in the state, but the chief minister made it clear in an administrative meeting on Thursday that she wants the plot to be returned to farmers to be cultivable again.
Prior to its acquisition in 2006, the fertile tract with abundant irrigation facilities used to yield multiple crops a year and support thousands of families. The challenge for the state government is to restore its original character, said the minister cited above, asking not to be identified.
All structures erected on the plot, including the now abandoned factory of Tata Motors Ltd are to be razed, starting with a power substation built by a state-owned utility, Banerjee said.
But the key problem is that thousands of tonnes of landfill have been dumped into the plot to raise its plinth by at least two meters. This was done to avoid flooding.
To make the tract cultivable again, this has to be dug out, and much more done to the soil beneath, for which the state will consult external experts.
After an administrative meeting on Thursday, Banerjee said “possession” of land is to be restored to their original owners within six weeks—in half the time the apex court had given to reverse the acquisition. Satellite imaging of the plot is to be completed within two weeks, following which redistribution will start.
The deadline for this could be extended by up to two weeks, but Banerjee has made it clear that the process must be completed within two months, said the minister. To expedite the process, workers under MGNREGA—the rural employment guarantee scheme—from across the state may be herded to Singur to rid the plot of its structures and the landfill.
On Thursday, she formed a committee comprising representatives of seven departments, which will be headed by her. It will closely follow the progress. In her absence, it will be headed by Partha Chatterjee, the state’s minister for education and parliamentary affairs.
By committing herself to a complete reversal of the acquisition, the chief minister is trying to make a statement, said Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at Kolkata’s Indian Statistical Institute. “She had to make a point, and she did,” he said.
Citing the example of the Rajarhat township development on the outskirts of Kolkata, Sarkar said such projects benefit only the “affluent”. The original owners of land at Rajarhat, who faced a similar forcible land acquisition, got nothing out of the development of a new township.
The experience at Singur, which according to Sarkar was a “political game”, would have been the same had the small car project materialized.