The government has 1,000 acre of unencumbered land in Goaltore in West Midnapore district and is agreeable to give it to anyone -- Tata Motors or BMW -- to build an automobile factory, chief minister Mamata Banerjee announced in Singur on Wednesday at a programme to kick off the process of returning land to the farmers.
“We have 1,000 acre in Goaltore from our landbank. We can give it to any group Tata or BMW to set up an auto unit,” said Banerjee, careful to avoid an exclusively pro-farmer label. “We are giving a month’s time. Think about it,” she said in a 45-minute speech during which she tried to strike a balancing act between agriculture and industry.
Ironically, Singur was the home to the first Nano factory that was aborted in October 2008 in the face of stiff resistance by Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. Last week, the chief minister returned from a trip to Munich and BMW headquarters with a sales pitch.
“We have a lot of land in Panagarh (Burdwan district), Kharagpur (West Midnapore) and Goaltore. There are other areas too,” said the chief minister.
In Wednesday’s programme the government distributed 806 cheques and land record documents to 9,117 people. “We are able to keep out word. Let this be an example in the rest of the country,” said the chief minister who promised to return the land before the expiry of 12-week deadline set by the court.
The Trinamool chief said without the Singur movement, the Nandigram agitation would not have taken place. “This is the mother of all struggles,” she remarked.
“We are returning the land. It’s their matter whether they till it, or sell it off,” remarked the chief minister. She also said that the irrigation department is sinking tubewells in the land to facilitate cultivation.
Banerjee also announced that they government will give Rs 10,000 to each farmer to help them start agriculture work. A centre will also be set up to facilitate loans to the farmers to buy farming equipment, the maximum amount of which will be Rs 20 lakh.
Every year September 14 will be observed as Singur Divas, she announced. “Every year, March 14, the day when 14 lives were lost in Nandigram due to police firing, the state will observe Farmer Rights Day,” she announced.
The farmers lined up and took the papers from Banerjee one by one. All the senior ministers of the cabinet were present on the dais.
The chief minister also called 10-year old Payel to the stage, and pointed out that the girl was less than two years of age when the police took her away along with her mother for trying to resist the acquisition.
On August 31, a division bench of the Supreme Court struck down the acquisition of the 997.11 acres in Singur by the Budhadeb Bhattacharjee government and said that the land has to be returned to their original owners.
“I will not forget a single instance when people tried to help us in the struggle. I am missing Mahasweta Devi who was a pillar of strength,” said an emotional Banerjee.
“We were constantly afraid that the police may appear any moment,” she said.
Mukundaram Chakraborty, 75, who lost a few bighas, was the first to receive the compensation cheque and land record document from the chief minister.
The chief minister kicked off the exercise to return the land on a 4,000-sq feet giant stage on which many landlosers were present.
Entire Singur wore a festive mood with thousands turning up in their best attire. People danced to the beating of drums, bought pictures of the chief minister and burst into festivities on a stretch of NH2 that was blocked for the programme.
The chief minister went into a free wheeling session of recalling past experiences of her struggle against the entire state establishment. “The UPA government at the Centre that had understanding with the Left did nothing to help me,” she alleged.
“I express my gratitude to former governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi,” said the chief minister.
Hours after the SC verdict on August 31, chief minister Banerjee, for whom the order turned out to be the biggest vindication in her political career described the acquisition as a ‘historic suicide’ by the Left Front.
“It was not merely a blunder, but a historic suicide. We kept saying that the land acquisition was wrong and today the Supreme Court has upheld it,” said the chief minister, whose success in routing the 34-year old Left government in Bengal is largely attributed to the anti-acquisition movement in Singur and that in Nandigram.
Banerjee was so determined to return the land to the farmers that regaining possession of the land was the first item on the agenda of the cabinet meeting on May 20, 2011, the day she assumed power.
“We were beaten up by the police, heckled and harassed in every possible way, but we did not budge,” said the chief minister.