Singur Verdict: Land Grab and Betrayal of Peasants’ Rights

In 2008, the division bench of the Calcutta High Court, comprising Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, had held that land acquisition by the West Bengal Government for the Tata Nano project was lawful since it was for ‘public purpose.’ This, in spite of the fact that peasants at Singur had overwhelmingly rejected the project and resisted forced land acquisition.

In 2012, Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and MK Chadhury have ruled the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 (returning land to the farmers of Singur) passed by the West Bengal Assembly to be unconstitutional on three counts – that Presidential Assent was not sought for the Act, that Tata was not compensated for losses, and that acquisition of Tata’s property to return it to the original owners could not be termed to be ‘public interest’.

It is one thing that Mamata Banerjee has, perhaps intentionally, betrayed the Singur peasants by failing to ensure that the Singur Act was legally sound. For instance, Presidential Assent should have been obtained. But, that apart, the recent verdict highlights the judicial double standards in India.

The verdict accepted the argument of the advocates for Tata, who challenged the Singur Act’s aim of returning land to ‘unwilling farmers,’ saying that “If this basis is accepted as valid classification, ...a few unwilling (or even willing) owners or a political/third party without any lawful basis or right (could) get hold of sufficient number of persons to sit on the land and stall the project or a scheme conceived in public interest. The State cannot reward such persons by enacting a law to return the validly acquired land (judicially declared or not) which would be a dangerous precedent and can strike at the root of any developmental work.” This is clearly what was at stake. The peasants of Tata could not be allowed to succeed in winning back their forcibly grabbed land – because it would be a ‘dangerous precedent.’

Instead, the verdict upheld the position that once acquisition had been held to be valid, the land was vested in the State, and all previous rights and titles stood ‘extinguished.’ Therefore the verdict held that ater acquisition had been held valid by the High Court, “the land vested in the State free from all encumbrances... Thereafter WBIDC became the absolute owner of the property in question. Then user of the land was changed and the original landowner became persona non grata. So their only right was to get compensation and nothing else. The persons who were the owners of the land cannot claim restoration of their title in the land on any ground.” And so, the verdict held, that the “return of land to the unwilling owners are not permissible after the acquisition process is completed and, therefore, cannot satisfy the term public purpose.”

Clearly, acquisition of land from peasants, forcibly, in order to hand over to corporates like Tata can be upheld as ‘public purpose.’ But according to the honourable court, acquisition of the same land from Tata to return to the farmers from whom it was grabbed cannot be ‘public purpose’!

The response of the CPI(M) to this verdict is very telling.

The CPI(M) has been telling the world that it regrets the events at Singur and Nandigram, that led to its ouster from West Bengal’s government. But, in the People’s Democracy dated July 1, the party’s stand (exultantly claiming vindication by the Singur verdict) reveals that the CPI(M) is unrepentant.

CC Member of CPI(M), Nirupam Sen, as quoted by PD, states that the abandonment of the factory (due to peasants’ resistance) “damaged the image of the state. Also damage was done to the people of Singur.” He maintains that the “so-called unwilling farmers of ‘400 acres’ were just a myth,” and claims that “hardly 30 acres of land of the ‘unwilling’ farmers exist in reality.”

If there were no ‘unwilling peasants,’ then we wonder who the West Bengal police and CPI(M) cadres beat up at Singur? At Singur today, not only those peasants who did not accept compensation (for around 400 acres) are demanding return of their land, but even those peasants who did accept compensation are protesting that they did so under threat and force. CPI(M) continues to insult them by saying that ‘there are no unwilling farmers.’

The CPI(M)’s response to the Singur situation at the present time clearly proves that they have no genuine remorse for having forcibly grabbed land from Singur’s peasants and unleashed repression on them. Rather there is a brazen denial of the reality of forced land grab and the grievance of the peasants against it!

Box 1

“Save Democracy” Convention by AILC at Kolkata

To commemorate the anniversary of declaration of emergency on 26th June, the All India Left Coordination organized a convention on the demand of “Save Democracy” on the same day this year in the historical University Institute Hall, Kolkata. More than a thousand people enthusiastically attended the convention and the convention was presided by Partha Ghosh, Secretary, West Bengal State Committee of CPI (ML), Liberation.

The speakers included Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of CPI (ML), Liberation, Taramoni Rai, General Secretary of CPRM, Aloke Nandy General Secretary of Democratic Communist Party (DCP), Nabarun Bhattacharya, renowned poet, Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University, who was manhandled and arrested in the cartoon episode recently, Prof. Partha Sarathi Roy, Scientist, who was arrested for supporting the ant-eviction movement at Nonadanga in Kolkata. The convention was attended also by Abdur Rezzak Mollah, MLA and peasant leader of CPI (M), who has of late made some public criticism of the anti-peasant policies of the previous Left Front government of which he had been the Land and Land Reforms Minister.

Speaking on the occasion Comrade Dipankar said, we are passing through a period of undeclared emergency in West Bengal today, where the space for democratic rights has shrunk to a large extent. He said, the Left Front government started its journey with the assurance that it would restore democracy and remedy all the anti-democratic deeds of the Congress government in the seventies. But far from doing that, it itself started to take away the democratic rights of the people. The new TMC government replacing the LF government seems to have taken over the mantle from the its predecessor and has started a new journey. Any democratic opposition is being branded as ‘Maoist’ or ‘CPM’ conspiracy. He further stressed that, in this hour of crisis for democracy, peasants, agricultural labourers, students, teachers, cultural personalities, intellectuals have all to unite. He called upon the struggling Left to unite.

Comrade Taramoni Rai exposed the parochial policies of the GJM in the hills of Darjeeling and the evil design of the TMC government to create unrest and division in the hills for narrow political gains. Comrade Aloke Nandy warned the audience about the signs of the impending autocratic rule in West Bengal. Prof. Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra narrated the ignominy and repression faced by him from the TMC government in the cartoon incident. Prof. Partha Sarathi indicated all the inherent symptoms of a fascist regime, which were manifested in the functioning of the present government. Comrade Rezzak Mollah said that he had come to the convention taking great risk, and it was necessary to take that risk to walk against the tide. He wholeheartedly endorsed the Convention’s call for a March to Singur on July 3. (Yet, vetoed by the CPI(M), he eventually could not join the Singur March).

The convention gave a call for “March to Singur” on 3rd July, 2012 in view of the impasse created there due to the recent judgement delivered by the Calcutta High Court and the immense miseries caused to the peasants, bargadars and agricultural labourers of Singur, who are almost on the verge of ruin.

Box 2

March to Singur at the Call of AILC

On 19 May, Mamata Banerjee had announced Rs 1000 monthly compensation, but the needy peasants did not get even this meager amount. Later, she announced that the amount would be hiked to Rs 2000 per month. But the fact is that TMC cadres are preparing lists of beneficiaries in a highly partisan way. On 13 May, Singur peasants spontaneously held a protest rally against this discrimination and denial.

In response to the call given by All India Left Coordination (AILC) in its convention held on 26th June, a 3,500 strong rally thronged the roads of Singur on 3rd July demanding repeal of Land Acquisition Act, 1894, return of land and right to till to the peasants of Singur whose land has been caught in a legal tangle, one time compensation of Rs. 7 lakh and monthly compensation of Rs. 7000 to each affected peasant, sharecroppers, and agricultural labourers, for loss of cultivation for the last 7 years, unconditional withdrawal of all Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh related false cases and exemplary punishment for the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik and murder of Rajkumar Bhul during the Singur movement.

The rally was obstructed by the TMC goons, but they had to ultimately back out in the face of militant attitude shown by the masses. The rally, coloured with red flags and banners all around and charged with militant zeal, traversed a distance of about 10 kilometres chanting militant slogans through the villages of Gopalnagar, Bajemelia and Beraberi, most of whose peasants are victims of forceful acquisition of land under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 during the LF regime for facilitating setting up of the Tata Nano factory. The rally terminated at the Beraberi market, where a small meeting was held in which Partha Ghosh, Secretary, WB State Committee of CPI (ML), Liberation and Kartick Pal, Polit Bureau Member of the party spoke.

Abdur Rezzak Mollah, CPI(M) MLA and former Land and Land Reforms Minister of the LF Government, eventually did not make it to the March, reportedly prevented from doing so by his party.

The CPI(M) Hooghly district committee organized a rally on 6 July demanding industry in Singur – participants were mostly from outside Singur. On 8 July, a rally organized by TMC also had a remarkably thin participation by Singur peasants.

On 16 July, Mamata was forced to announce 16 kg rice at Rs 2 per kg for each family in Singur. But the resentment and resistance of the people of Singur continues to be grow.

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