After her momentous assembly election victory in May, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has now notched up two more significant wins: on Wednesday, she not only won the Bhowanipore assembly bypoll to enter the legislative assembly for the first time, she also got a favourable order from the Kolkata High Court on the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011.
In a significant order, the court upheld the validity of the Act by which the state had charged the Singur project proponents, Tata Motors, with non-commissioning of the plant and abandonment and took away its rights to the land. It also did not provide for compensation, even though the company had made heavy investments.
Keeping that in view, the court said that Tata Motors can apply for compensation.
For Ms Banerjee and her party, the order will be like closing a circle that began with their agitation against the acquisition of fertile land for industrialisation by the Left government, which eventually led to its removal from power.
Though a jubilant Ms Banerjee hailed the court order, she was cautious not to anger industry. Ms Banerjee said that a “large factory” would be set up on the 600 acres of land at Singur, while the rest (400 acres) will be returned to those farmers who were unwilling to part with their land and had not accepted the compensation given by the previous Left Front government in 2006.
While the Bengal government’s amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, will be seen differently by different people (depending on which side of the fence they are on), the move itself is not without precedent. In 1997, the Tamil Nadu government also amended the 1894 Act for a similar purpose.
In fact, the order is also in line with the prevalent line of thought: the new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act, 2011, which was placed before Parliament earlier this month and is now with the Parliamentary Standing Committee, provides for transferring land to the state government if the area is not used for the purpose it was acquired for within 10 years.
A few weeks ago, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said that the upcoming land acquisition Bill is a political Bill. He was right: it is a political response to a political issue.
Naturally, it will be prudent to see this court order more as a political victory for the ruling dispensation in Bengal than anything else.
It will be too early and drastic to say that it is a red signal for industrialisation in the state.
For the Trinamool and its leader, securing the interest of the farmers of Singur made complete sense because in the first year of power, consolidation of their core support group is always the primary goal of any government that intends to play a long innings.