West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has moved a step closer in keeping her promise of returning 400 acres of the Singur Nano factory plot to the unwilling farmers.
An ordinance was promulgated on Thursday to remove the legal hurdle in the path of returning the acquired land to its original owners who had been supposedly coerced into parting with their land.
"The rest of the 600 acres (one acre = 43,560 square feet) of land is still left to the Tatas to set up any factory," said Banerjee at Writers' Buildings on Thursday evening.
She said: "The governor has put his signature. The ordinance has been passed."
Law minister Malay Ghatak said as the assembly was not in session, passing a law was not possible and hence ordinance was the only option.
"The government has amended the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. In Section 48 of the Act it is stated the land once acquired for public purposes cannot be returned to the original owners. The ordinance has introduced a sub-section (48A) that allows the land to be returned to original owners," Ghatak said.
The government has to ratify the ordinance in the assembly within six months. Trinamool Congress sources said the amendment bill was ready and would be placed in the assembly once the house met on June 14.
However, a Tata spokesperson said: "We're not aware of such a development, and we can not comment unless we have studied the ordinance."
Singur had raised a countrywide debate on the question of eminent domain, under which the state is empowered to acquire land for public purposes.
On the day Banerjee took oath and entered the state secretariat, she said returning the 400 acres would be on top of her agenda.
The Tatas had sent a letter to the previous government saying they could return the land if proper compensation was paid, she added.
"If they want compensation, it will be given according to law," Banerjee said.
Former industry minister Nirupam Sen, who had taken the initiative to set up the factory, said: "If something beneficial comes up, it is good."