Days after the Supreme Court judgment striking down the acquisition of land for Tata Motors’ car factory in Singur, the government is trying to prepare 997-acre plot for return to its original owners. But with the land’s agricultural potential still under a question mark, Agriculture Minister Purnendu Bose said its fate would be “ultimately decided by the people”, while not ruling out the possibility of a mass vote at Mamata Banerjee’s September 14 rally.
Asked if there was no question of industry at Singur, Bose said, “Our instructions are to follow the mandate given to us by the Supreme Court, to the letter. At present, we are trying to return the land to the farmers within the time-frame given to us and things look hopeful. But as far as the fate of Singur is concerned, I can say this much — Mamata Banerjee will not do anything without consulting the people. The fate of Singur will be decided by the common people.”
Bose joined a queue of ministers who have visited the site, while Mamata is scouting for potential investors in Germany. “I will monitor everything,” she had said before leaving. On Wednesday, Bose said about 300 acres had been surveyed. “We are trying to figure out the exact condition of the land. Dampness in the area is a concern. Today, I have come with a team of scientists who will help us understand the situation.”
Land in Singur was once said to have been the most fertile in the state and the main challenge for the government is to attempt and recreate that situation. But in the last 10 years, the survey soon found, the area has been taken over by wild grass and bush that have depleted the nutrients in the soil. Moreover, at least “two or three feet fly ash and sand were dumped to the site to raise the land level” while the top soil, “most important for cultivation”, has been damaged beyond repair, said a government official, adding that the land has “also been compacted by machines”.
With doubts over fertility, many farmers who had been unwilling to part with their land are now undecided. Haradhan Baghi said, “We were unwilling to part with our land. In the last 10 years, we have suffered greatly. Though the government has helped us, a farmer without his land is nothing. And the land that we will get back is no longer the same. Perhaps it would be better if an industry were here, so we could have some other employment.”
Bose said, “In our state, our chief minister’s vision is that industry and agriculture must go hand in hand, like siblings. That is what we’ll aim to achieve.”
But Singur farmers are divided, some wanting their land back for farming, others looking to sell their land to the highest bidder, and still others wishing for industry.