Singur Saga: Back to homeland

The landmark SC verdict not only gives Singur farmers their land back but also sets precedent for others fighting against land acquisition in other states

sreelatha

Sreelatha Menon | September 16, 2016


#Tata Motors   #Ratan Tata   #Mamata Banerjee   #land grab   #farmers   #supreme court   #singur   #Nano  
A file photo of Singur
A file photo of Singur

It was a major victory for the country’s farmers when the supreme court (SC) quashed the acquisition of land in Singur for Tata Motor Limited’s Nano car project. The judgment took a strong stand in favour of the farmers’ agricultural land besides calling into question the definition of ‘public purpose’. What is unique is that for the first time the court ordered returning of land to farmers while asking them not to return the compensation they received. The SC judgment exposed how indifferent the acquisition process was to the wishes and rights of the land owners in terms of consent and compensation.
 
 
 
In May 2006, the then West Bengal government had acquired nearly 1,000 acres of land in Singur under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Act, 2013, which replaced it, has included clauses to ensure proper consent from land owners and payment of market rates in compensation. 
 
The judgment is a culmination of a fight started by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. When her government brought in legislation to enable returning of land to Singur farmers, it was rejected by the Calcutta high court. An appeal in the SC supported by the state led to this judgment.
 
The judgment could set a precedent in many ways for disputes about all the land acquired under the earlier law, say experts. However, they are not so confident if there is any guarantee of a replication of the judgment in every case. One of the reasons for this is that while the two judges – justice V Gopala Gowda and justice Arun Mishra – agreed that the land should be returned, they disagreed on whether it was in ‘public purpose’ or not.
 
While justice Gowda rejected the argument that the acquisition served a public purpose as it was done for the private company, justice Mishra stated that manufacturing units would help the people of West Bengal by creating more jobs and indeed serve public purpose.
 
Lakshmi Premkumar, activist with Programme for Social Action (PSA), says, “Despite the difference of views of the two judges, the judgment does bring into question all land acquisition done under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Though the judgment is open to appeal, it can reinterpret land acquired prior to the new law of 2013.”
 
Medha Patkar has been fighting for farmers in Madhya Pradesh for compensation for land acquired from them for the dams under the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP). While she calls the judgment historic, she feels that it does not guarantee return of land to farmers who had to give up their land in several other states. “A different bench may have given a different ruling,” she says, speaking from 31 years of experience of fighting a legal battle for the land evictees of the SSP (see interview).
 
Premkumar agrees, “If it comes to any other bench then you will be faced with a regressive judgment again.”
 
While the judgment is indeed historic, its timing is even more significant. It has come when many state governments have drafted their own land acquisition legislation to sideline the 2013 land acquisition law. “The state legislations brought by BJP-ruled states are almost a replica of the ordinances which the Narendra Modi government brought,” says Ashok Shrimali, secretary general of mines minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P). “The judgment has given an edge to land movements in these states. We were all united and won against the government in getting the anti-farmer ordinances cancelled. Now this judgment gives us more ammunition,’’ he adds. 
 
While the 2013 law ensures social impact assessment and consent from 80 percent of the people whose land is to be taken, it is ironical that hardly any land is being acquired under this new Act. The states are acquiring lands under the laws they have made, says Madhuresh Kumar, an associate of Patkar from the National Alliance of People’s Movements. “It is yet to be seen if the judgment sets any precedent in fighting the battles against acquisition done under other laws,” says Kumar.
 
Since the judgment scathingly attacked the procedure of acquisition and the measly compensation which had no relation to market rates, it will help all petitioners in the fight against unfair acquisition of land.

Menon is a freelance journalist. 

(The article appears in September 16-30, 2016 edition of Governance Now)

Comments

 

Other News

With Modi wave, BJP breaks Gujarat record

The BJP has been in power in Gujarat since 1998, and the state proved to be its springboard for the national sweep in 2014. Yet, it never came even close to the highest tally of 149 seats (out of the total 182) that the Congress had recorded in 1985. This time it has finally broken past the 150-mark, aided

Reality As It Is: The Buddha`s advice on overcoming bias, prejudices

‘See Things As They Are’: Life Lessons from the Buddha Edited by Nanditha Krishna Aleph, 98 pages, Rs 399 There is a wonderful idea behin

World growth expected to face inflation pressures

World GDP forecasts for 2023 have been revised down again as central banks intensify their fight against inflation and the outlook for China’s property market deteriorates, says Fitch Ratings in its latest Global Economic Outlook (GEO) report. Fitch now expects world GDP to grow by 1.4

200+ bird species documented in Chhattisgarh’s first-ever survey

Nine species of owls (including the magnificent spot-bellied eagle-owl), 10 birds of prey, 11 species of Woodpeckers (including white-bellied woodpecker – the largest woodpecker in peninsular India), and many other species have been documented during a first-ever bird survey in Chhattisgarh.

Cyclists plan ‘memorial ride’ to press demand for infrastructure

Cycling is a passion for many, and it is a way to fitness too. With rising numbers of vehicles on the road, the government encourages this environment-friendly mode of transportation, but it comes with numerous challenges. An accident last month on the Mahipalpur flyover of south Delhi, which took the life

“World headed towards stagflation; India must take care of the poor”

As the post-pandemic fallout and geopolitical uncertainty slows down global economies and sanctions against some nations, energy crisis and inflation are adding to the troubles, India is projected to be decoupled from world economy and fare better. To check if this belief really holds water, in the latest

Visionary Talk: Amitabh Gupta, Pune Police Commissioner with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter