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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 43 New Delhi October 15, 2016

Singur Judgement

Sunday 16 October 2016

by samit kar

The recent historic judgement passed by the Supreme Court on the Singur issue has made the Left suffer a terrible blow yet again. After a 34-year stint in West Bengal, nothing seems to be on the right path for them. Subsequent to 2011, the concept of the ‘Left Front’ seems to be de jure instead of de facto. The CPI-M is the scapegoat now as they did amass unbridled power when they were in office. The landmark judgement is, no doubt, historical regarding the question of land acquisition in our country. Also critical is to assess why the CPI-M became so infantile to favour the Tatas to set up their motor car industry in Singur in the Hooghly district covering an expanse of about 998 acres of fertile agricultural land.

The Supreme Court judgement categorised the decision of the then Government of West Bengal as illegal and directed that the entire chunk of land be handed over to the peasants without asking them to repay the pecuniary compensation, which they could get nearly 10 years ago. It further observed that the entire process of returning the land had to be settled within six weeks from the day of the judgement. In a landmark statement the judgement noted that the effort of the then Government of West Bengal was uncalled for as a government either at the State or Central level cannot wish to acquire land from the common people and hand it over to a private entrepreneur to establish the latter’s profit-seeking business.

This remark was made in the context of the existing law of the land. But Parliament needs to examine in future the existing law to update it since in the era of liberalisation across the world the critical task of poverty reduction and employment generation cannot be accomplished without the endeavour of the private players. When the government has already decided to withdraw itself from its commanding heights position in the economy, how can industriali-sation and expansion of the service sector happen without private venture? Who can deny that a peasant cultivating his or his master’s land as an agricultural labourer always desires his descen-dants will have a non-farm livelihood bearing a superior status? The practice of agriculture may indeed provide vital supplement necessary for human survival. But the transition from an agri-cultural to industrial economy is a natural pheno-menon common to all countries across the world. Therefore, the question of industrialisation at the behest of private players is happening everywhere and the Parliament of India as the highest forum of law-making may need to critically discuss the veracity of the vexed issue threadbare.

The SC observation to declare the effort illegal and arbitrary might have been further reinforced due to the complete reluctance of the Tatas to carry forward their mission in Singur for which they sought this huge quantum of fertile land. West Bengal had suffered the severe brunt of partition and the dreaded communal divide. Thus it has become India’s most densely populated State with a mammoth unemployed manpower. Some had been very harsh to say that the people out here were not unemployed but simply unemployable. The CPI-M had no option but to go all out to vie for industrialisation by engaging private capital. In 2004, the Congress-led UPA Government came to power and the Left then had a formidable presence with 65 Lok Sabha members. Somnath Chatterjee became the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and prior to the formation of the government, Jyoti Basu suggested the name of Sonia Gandhi as the Prime Minister. Though she declined to accept the offer, Sonia became enamoured of the CPI-M and declared that she was eager to see West Bengal become the most industrially developed State of the country. Soon she appointed Ratan Tata, the Chairman, Investment Commission of India, as the super Industry Minister of our nation and instructed him to work with right earnest to fulfil his dream.

Somnath Chatterjee, in his address as the chief guest at the Sankrail Utsav in December

 2005, assured that West Bengal was poised to make a miracle in the sphere of industrialisation. Sankrail was earmarked as an industrial growth centre in the Howrah district adjacent to the National Highway 6 commonly known as the Bombay Road. Prior to 2004, the Tatas did set up a Cancer Hospital in Rajarhat near Kolkata and desired to have more industrial and business units in Kolkata. The advice of Sonia Gandhi raked up Ratan Tara’s interest and the CPI-M getting this unbridled opportunity for the first time in West Bengal, lost its prudence and rationality to aid the process.

The then government envisaged to offer non- fertile land to the Tatas in areas like Purulia and Kharagpur to establish their motor car industry. But the Tatas were in no mood to oblige and insisted to get a land as close as possible to Dumdum Airport for their personal convenience. In this way, the huge piece of fertile land in Singur along the Bombay Road was selected. The decision in this regard later proved to be incorrect. But 10 years ago, the CPI-M thought that the decision of the Tatas as the most credible industrial house to set up industries one after another in West Bengal will create a mass euphoria, especially invigorating the youth of Bengal. Understanding this social factor, the Opposition might have decided to protest en masse to thwart the Tatas in Singur. The sluggish approach of the Tatas might have made the entire process go haywire. The Tatas were unable to meet success and so was their much publicised Nano. But we need to under-stand that in order to see a turnaround in West Bengal, the transition from agriculture to industry as the base of the economy and society needs to be accomplished at any cost. The challenge to give a befitting leadership lies with the present policy-planners and that is not a mean task indeed.

The author, now retired, formerly belonged to the Sociology Faculty at the Presidency University, Kolkata.