Bengal govt notifies Singur Bill, initiates moves to reclaim land

Bengal govt notifies Singur Bill, initiates moves to reclaim land

Kolkata: The West Bengal government on Tuesday issued a notification putting the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011, into force, and pasted a notice at the entrance of Tata Motors Ltd’s abandoned small-car factory, asking the company and its component suppliers to “forthwith restore vacant possession of land in favour of district magistrate (of) Hooghly".

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If they couldn’t do so “immediately", the district magistrate of Hooghly “shall be entitled to take steps and use such force as may be necessary to take possession of land", said the notice, which was put up at around 7.30pm.

The state government has with this notification seized the land, according to law minister Malay Ghatak.

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Hours before the notice was issued, Tata Motors posted a notice at its factory saying the firm needs at least 5 hours to react to any directive from the state government, and that if any notice is issued to it after working hours, it will only be considered the next day.

An official of Vaishnavi Corporate Communications Pvt. Ltd, Tata Motors’ public relations agency, confirmed the firm’s notice, but refused to offer details.

A week ago, the West Bengal government had moved a Bill in the state legislative assembly. It was passed by voice vote, enabling the state government to acquire the 997-acre plot for Tata Motors’ small-car factory and return land to so-called “unwilling owners", or people who did not receive payment to protest against the forcible acquisition of their land. Governor M.K. Narayanan gave his assent to the Bill on Monday.

The state government has said in the Bill it would compensate Tata Motors for its sunk cost, but won’t pay anything to its component makers.

After the Bill was passed, Tata Motors said in a statement that its sunk cost in Singur is around 440 crore and that of its component makers is 171 crore.

The Bill names some 2,800 people as entitled to receive land from the state government.

The Left Front, which ruled West Bengal for 34 years until last month, had in 2006 taken about six months to acquire land in Singur. The Trinamool Congress-led government, which was sworn in on 20 May, took 32 days to reclaim the acquired land.

According to the records of the land and land reforms department, the collective ownership of people who have so far not accepted payment is around 297 acres.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had, however, said the state government would return 400 acres to farmers within hours of being sworn in. The Bill does not specify how much is to be returned.

In the draft Bill circulated among West Bengal’s lawmakers last Monday, the state government had said it would return land only from the 290 acres allotted to Tata Motors’ component makers, described as vendors in the Bill.

But before it was passed in the assembly, modifications were introduced which allow the state government to return land from anywhere it likes.

With the Bill coming into force, the stage is set for legal battles to begin. A large section of the 11,000 erstwhile landowners who had received compensation for the land acquired from them are planning to move the Calcutta high court, opposing the Bill.

Leader of the opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra had in the assembly protested the distinction made between willing and unwilling owners, saying it was inequitable.

Mishra had said in the assembly that the state government should have amended the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 to return land to farmers because under the Act there is no provision of returning acquired land to erstwhile owners.

Also, Tata Motors’ component makers could legally challenge the Bill demanding compensation, according to lawyers.