Few claimants for seized Singur land

Few claimants for seized Singur land

Kolkata: Only about 300 protesting farmers have so far managed to establish, with valid legal documents, their “rightful title" to the land seized from them in 2006 for Tata Motors Ltd’s small car factory in Singur. Their collective ownership is 40 acres at the most.

The state government gave farmers a month’s time till 22 July to file applications with the Hooghly district administration to reclaim land that they were forced to give up for the factory. The district administration, which continues to scrutinize applications, expects only about 300 more valid claims to emerge from among near 2,000 lodged with it.

Under the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, the first law passed by the newly elected Trinamool Congress government of the state, the administration seized the 997-acre plot allotted to Tata Motors and its component makers, with the aim of redistributing it among farmers. The Act named some 2,200-odd farmers as eligible to reclaim land, and their collective ownership was pegged at around 300 acres.

The Act said only those farmers who protested against the 2006 land acquisition for the now-abandoned Nano car factory by not receiving payment from the state government were entitled to reclaim as much land as was seized from them.

These people, named in the Act, were asked to file applications with the Hooghly district administration with proof of ownership, but it now appears that a “large majority" of these erstwhile landowners have no documents to establish their title to the land.

“So far, applications of only about 310 people have been found to be valid," said Rabindranath Bhattacharya, a Trinamool Congress legislator from Singur and the state’s minister for agriculture. He was also one of the key leaders of the Trinamool Congress-spearheaded agitation against the factory.

“Going by the trend so far, we expect the number (of valid applications) to rise by another 300 at best," he added.

District magistrate Sripriya Rangarajan refused to comment, saying she was busy dealing with the flood-like situation in Hooghly.

“A large majority of the applicants are unable to prove their ownership," said Pulak Sarkar, Singur block development officer. “It appears from the hundreds of applications processed so far that a lot of people in that list (in the Act) have sold their land, and the people who currently claim to own these tracts of land have no document at all to establish their ownership."

Moloy Ghatak, the state’s law minister and vice-chairman of an expert panel overseeing the land redistribution, said it would not be possible for the state government to return land unless people could establish their claim with valid legal documents.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said that at least 400 acres of land was forcibly seized by the erstwhile Left Front government of the state. She demanded the return of 400 acres to the erstwhile owners, and didn’t budge from it, forcing Tata Motors to pull the plug on the Singur project.

According to the records of the state’s land and land reforms (L&LR) department, erstwhile owners of some 51 acres couldn’t claim compensation because of ownership being under legal dispute. Erstwhile owners of around 90 acres were found to be living abroad, and didn’t bother to collect compensation.

“To be realistic, only a little over 150 acres could be redistributed among local farmers in the best case scenario, but it now seems that only about 70-80 acres would be reclaimed," said an officer of the L&LR department, who did not want to be named.

“We don’t know yet if people who live abroad have reclaimed land; if they have, the figure could go up, but only marginally."

Incidentally, the erstwhile Left Front government had offered to carve out 70 acres from the plot allotted for the small car factory, to be developed and redistributed among all farmers forced to give up land for the project. It also offered to sweeten the cash compensation.

But Banerjee spurned the offer and continued to protest, which eventually led to the factory being moved to Sanand in Gujarat.