Mamata redeems pledge, returns land to Singur farmers

Singur (West Bengal): Redeeming a pledge she made years back in this rural pocket which she called a “landmark in world history”, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday returned 9,117 land records to farmers and compensated 800 peasants from whom land had been taken against their will for the Tata Motors’ Nano project.

Amid euphoric chants and songs eulogising her and her government, lakhs watched as Banerjee personally handed out the documents to many of the farmers who responded with warm smiles and touched her feet in gratitude at the Singur Diwas venue at Sanapara of Hooghly district.

It was the same spot of the Durgapur Expressway where Banerjee had held a 16-day sit-in protest in 2008 demanding 400 acres out of the total 997.11 acres acquired for the project be returned to the “unwilling farmers”.

A visibly-elated Banerjee asserted that she had kept her promise and would abide by the August 31 Supreme Court verdict that struck down the land acquisition made by the erstwhile Left Front government and ordered the land be returned to the cultivators.

“We will abide by the court order in letter and spirit. We had only wanted that the land be returned. We have kept our promise. We had promised to return land. Now we have redeemed our pledge. Singur is a landmark in world history.”

Banerjee said though the court had given ten weeks to complete the land survey, her government will complete the process in seven-eight weeks. “Within two weeks, our officers have surveyed and demarcated 623 acres of land.”

The Trinamool Congress supremo said 900 peasants had applied for compensation cheques. “There are some queries about 100 of them. The rest 800 are getting the cheques today.”

Announcing a series of sops and welfare measures for the peasants of Singur before a huge turnout estimated to be around eight lakh, Banerjee said her government will provide Rs 10,000 to each family from whom land had been taken for the project.

“Family of each farmer – irrespective of whether they had given the land willingly or unwillingly – will get Rs 10,000 for buying implements for cultivating the land. To enable peasants hire big equipment for farming, the West Bengal Agro-Industries Corporation will lend loans upto Rs 24 lakh,” she said.

The chief minister said her government will continue the monthly dole of Rs 2,000 that were being given to all farmers from whom land had been taken against their will. “This will continue till the land becomes cultivable.”

Banerjee accused the LF regime of demolishing four deep tubewells in the area to facilitate the Nano project, and announced that as a stop gap measure, small tubewells will be installed by the Irrigation Department to provide water for cultivation.

She said soil testing was on, and fertilisers and high quality seeds will be made available.

She also announced that some of the roads and an electric supply office will be demolished to make way for farmland.

Banerjee warned that police cases would be lodged if anyone was found to have taken compensation cheques for the project “wrongly” during the LF regime.

She declared that from next year, September 14 would be celebrated as “Singur Divas” and September 25 as “Singur adhikar raksha divas” (Singur rights protection day).

A Singur Memorial would come up in memory of martyrs of the anti-land acquisition movement.

“Through this memorial, we will show our respect to those who laid down their lives in the battle. People from across the world can also come there to pay their respects. The District Magistrate will provide a good plot for this. There will be trees for greenery.”

Lending a hand at the packed event were her party leaders including celebrities like actor Dev (Dipak) Adhikari.

Intellectuals and activists including Narmada Bacho Andolan founder member Medha Patkar, who had supported Banerjee’s staunch stance on the issue right at the outset, were also present.

A replica of an agricultural field installed at the venue in Hooghly district struck a chord with the peasants who erupted in joy and were overwhelmed with the celebrations which came two weeks after the Supreme Court verdict.

Singers Kabir Suman, pratul Mukhopadhyay – leading figures in the anti-acquisiton struggle – belted out songs in the company of a galaxy of writers, painters, theatre activists and ex bureaucrats, who had also taken part in the movement.