Singur (West Bengal): The state government of West Bengal is unlikely to deliver on its promise to turn the entire 997-acre plot seized from Tata Motors Ltd cultivable for immediate farming.

Around 150 acres of the plot previously given to the maker of the Nano car and its components suppliers may not be fit for cultivation for several years, according to some agriculture department officials.

The reason: factory sheds and roads were built after raising the plinth with landfill by up to two metres. Digging out the debris may not be enough to reclaim the original character of the worst affected part of the former factory complex, said farmers in Singur.

It is “technically not impossible" to reclaim the original character of the entire plot, according to Purnendu Bose, the state’s minister for agriculture overseeing state initiatives at Singur. “We have started to level the entire plot," he said, but wouldn’t commit to a timeframe for restoring cultivability of the entire plot.

On 31 August, the Supreme Court ruled against the 2006 acquisition in Singur, and asked the state government to return the land to its original owners, restoring its original character. This used to be a multi-crop farmland with substantial irrigation facilities.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was prompt in readying the plot to be returned to farmers. Factory sheds were razed and paperwork done within weeks to hand back possession of the land to original owners. She also arranged for help with farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers so that cultivation could start immediately.

However, some officials in the agriculture department said a portion of the plot may have been destroyed by construction activities beyond redemption. The more optimistic ones said it could take years to reclaim the fertility it previously had. These officials asked not to be identified.

The exact number of claimants to this affected portion isn’t immediately known. Some claims are disputed. But it is estimated that at least 200 farmers have interest in this affected portion, according to the officials cited above. Some of these farmers said they were short-changed.

There are still iron rods sticking out of the land which wouldn’t come out, said Prabhas Ghosh, who owns two bighas, or two-thirds of an acre. Ruling out any possibility of tilling his land in the foreseeable future, he said he now regretted taking part in the agitation led by Banerjee against the proposed factory.

“In hindsight, it seems to be a gimmick and nothing else," he said, referring to the Singur movement.

“How does one grow potatoes on black soil?" asked Biswanath Ghosh, another disgruntled farmer in Singur, who is now fighting with the administration to establish his right to what he claimed to be his plot before it was seized under land acquisition. Potato used to be one of the key crops grown at Singur.

Singur’s local legislator Rabindranath Bhattacharya of the Trinamool Congress had earlier said that the people of Singur would have agreed to let a substantial part of the acquired plot to be used for industrial purposes. It would have possibly helped a large section of farmers. But that option was no longer available after the Supreme Court delivered its judgement, ordering the state to return the land after restoring its original character, according to Bhattacharya.

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