Singur, West Bengal: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee handed out bags of mustard seeds and fertilizers to farmers in Singur on Thursday, along with land that was taken away from them to build a car factory 10 years ago.

Symbolically kicking off farming in what used to be a fertile tract yielding multiple crops a year, Banerjee herself joined farmers in sowing mustard seeds. The administration will complete the process of returning land by 8 November, Banerjee said.

The 298 farmers at the function were handed out farming kits with seeds and fertilizers. Tata Motors Ltd had planned to build its small car Nano in Singur, in a factory spread across 997 acres.

“But will my grandchildren till this land?" asked Malati Ghosh, one of the recipients of land on Thursday. For now, she is happy to get back her land, which she will cultivate, along with her two sons. But she isn’t sure, she said, if her grandchildren would farm or leave in search of better livelihoods. “Things could have changed had the factory materialized," she said.

Even as Banerjee fought through 10 years—first as opposition leader and then as chief minister—to restore ownership of land to Singur’s farmers, it seemed on Thursday that many had given up and moved out. The district magistrate of Hooghly, Sanjay Bansal, on Thursday said as many as 2,300 land deeds—or certificates of ownership—remained unclaimed.

The state has so far distributed 10,436 land deeds and 4,443 compensation cheques to land owners who had previously refused to take the money to protest against the acquisition, Bansal said.

Some anomalies in claims over ownership have also been found and the district administration has filed criminal complaints of cheating against 120 people, he added.

The Supreme Court had in its 31 August verdict said the state must return the land to its original owners, restoring its original character. Banerjee said only 65 acres could not be made cultivable yet; the rest, she claimed was ready for tilling.

However, a section of Singur’s farmers are concerned that it may take years—some say up to four years—for the entire plot to start yielding crops like it did before landfill was dumped into it and Tata Motors raised the plinth of its factory by at least two metres. But according to the state administration, only a small portion of the 997-acre plot was affected by construction.

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