Singur (West Bengal): The people of Singur didn’t want Tata Motors Ltd’s small car project to be aborted, says Rabindranath Bhattacharya, the local legislator who led the agitation against the state government’s forcible land acquisition from the beginning.

Only a section of people didn’t agree to land being taken away from them—they wanted land to be returned to them for farming, says the unsung leader of the movement, who is also a Trinamool Congress legislator from Singur from 2001.

But following the Supreme Court verdict, land has to be made cultivable again and returned to all owners—even ones who didn’t want to continue farming, according to Bhattacharya.

Edited excerpts:

Are people of Singur happy with the verdict?

Yes. In general, people are happy to get their land back. But that doesn’t mean people of Singur are opposed to industrialization. Until the Supreme Court passed its verdict, a large section of the people of Singur wanted the project to materialize. At the same time, a section of the people opposed the land acquisition and wanted their land back for farming. But now, the entire 997-acre plot has to be returned to its original owners. And it has to be made cultivable again to comply with the Supreme Court’s judgement.

Is it possible to restore the original character of the land?

Within the walled complex of the factory, not much has changed in terms of the character of the land. Yes, a lot of fly ash has been dumped. A firm concrete structure has been built for Tata Motors’ factory spread over around 100 acres, and several roads have been built. But these, to my mind, can be removed and the land made cultivable again.

If there was indeed support for Tata Motors’ project, why did it not materialize?

Tata Motors identified the plot because of its connectivity: Singur is connected by a highway, it’s not far from the airport…But as pointed out by the Supreme Court, the due process of law was not followed when acquiring the land. A lot of people who owned land along the highway have sold out and a lot of factories have been built. But Tata Motors’ project didn’t materialize. If only the state government didn’t forcibly acquire land and Tata Motors bought the land on its own or through a private agent, paying the right price, this project, too, would have materialized.

But in the end, it is a defeat for the state government?

I don’t agree with that view. It was indeed a verdict against an earlier action of the state government, but policies have over time changed completely. So, to my mind, it’s a victory for the state government. If chief minister Mamata Banerjee hadn’t passed a law in 2011 ousting Tata Motors to return land to farmers, the case couldn’t have been fought at this level. It was beyond the ability of Singur’s farmers to legally fight against the state machinery and Tata Motors and secure a verdict like this.

What is your stand on industrialization?

West Bengal needs industrialization. If you look at people of Singur only, a large section of agrarian families are now unable to sustain from farming alone. They are looking for other ways of augmenting their family income. So, large factories employing a lot of people are necessary, but at the same time, factories should not be set up at the cost of highly productive farmland.

How has the aborted project affected the people of Singur through the past 10 years?

The project affected around 13,000 people, who either owned land or worked on the land seized to build Tata Motors’ factory. Some people, who voluntarily gave land for the project, have found ways to move on. But in general, a large section of people were forced to turn into agricultural workers, tilling land owned by others, whereas previously they used to work on their own land. For many, this transition was extremely difficult to cope with.

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