Every day, China Das takes her cow to graze on land that was once acquired for the Nano factory in Singur. That’s all she does. She can’t resume farming on the five bighas she owns, even though it was returned to her following a Supreme Court ruling over a year ago. Das, 55, says she no longer knows where her land begins and ends.
On August 31, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered 997.11 acres of land, acquired for the Tata car project, to be returned to Singur’s farmers. The verdict was described as historic, vindicating Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s stand on the issue, which had triggered a prolonged agitation. The Singur land protests even earned a place in West Bengal’s school textbooks.
But today, a majority of farmers in Singur are yet to revive farming on their land, claiming that it is not ready and not even demarcated. State government officials say they have ensured that the plots are cultivable, returning land deeds to 12,000 people and providing seeds. They also claim that plots were clearly demarcated four times but the farmers are unwilling to return.
One official even pointed to a sense of fear among Singur residents that the assistance provided by the state government to over 3,000 farmers — Rs 4,000 and 16 kg rice every month — would be discontinued if they resume farming.
“You see that row of palm trees? I think my land may be there. But I don’t know. There may be snakes there now. The land is also full of concrete blocks, stones and other debris. My 5 bighas are yet to be demarcated. How will I farm there? Didi (Mamata Banerjee) should intervene,” said Das, a resident of Khaserbheri in Singur.
The Indian Express visited Singur to find the area facing NH-2 dotted with mounds of mangled iron beams, tin shades, iron rods and concrete blocks. Residents say these are remnants of structures erected during the setting up of the Nano plant.
Contractors were busy salvaging and cutting through the debris, while small patches of land had marks of farming activity. In one patch, women could be seen grazing cows and goats. Other patches had tube wells that were unused.
Residents of a clutch of villages in the area — Khaserbheri, Joymollah, Beraberi — claim that their land was not ready for farming yet.
“Initially, demarcation pillars were placed. But during the process of levelling land, they were lost. The government will have to demarcate the plots once again. A lot of work is needed for us to start farming. There were lapses on the part of panchayat leaders and government officials. The Chief Minister must see the situation for herself,” said Mahadeb Das, a resident of Beraberi Purbapara who had actively participated in the land agitation.
“I was jailed during the agitation and still have to make the rounds of courts. But you can see that my land is not ready or demarcated. It has not been levelled, it is not possible for tractors to enter the area. Wild bushes and piles of stones and rubbish are all that is left,” said Dwariknath Ghosh, 60, who now runs a small eatery in Beraberi bazaar to support his family.
“I was able to start farming on a small portion of our 5.5 bighas after the government handed it over. The government provided us with seeds and even some men to work on the field. But I got only a bag of paddy this year. Now I have no interest in tilling the land. Who will invest money? There are still large stones in my field,” said Sudip Ghosh of Beraberi.
Sanjay Bansal, District Magistrate, Hooghly, says government officials did their best to ensure that the land is cultivable. “All necessary steps have been taken according to the instructions of the state government and following the Honorable Supreme Court’s order. Various departments, from irrigation to waterways and land, have worked tirelessly. For instance, 56 minor irrigation structures (deep tube wells) were put up on the land,” said Bansal.
“We demarcated the plots four times — initially, after the court order and finally, this year just before the Puja. But such demarcation is temporary in nature and farmers need to claim their land. In August, 19 spots were identified through the panchayat where more work was needed. Immediately, work for restoration was done,” said a senior government official at the State Secretariat.
Maybe, the farmers fear that once they start farming, the monthly dole of Rs 4,000 and 16 kg of rice will be stopped. There were over 1,800 farmers who did not want their land to be acquired at the time, but this dole is being given to 3,200 people,” said the official.
Suman Chakraborty, Block Development Officer, Singur, says the government has done “whatever possible” to help the farmers.
”I don’t know why the farmers are not returning to their land. We demarcated the plots four times. With the help of farmers, the state agriculture department initiated cultivation on around 500 acres for various crop, including mustard and paddy, for two seasons after the land was returned,” said Chakraborty.
“”While levelling the land, the demarcation pillars got lost. Many cannot identify their land and some work is still needed. We have the informed officials and are urging the farmers to get back to their land,” said Pratima Das, a Trinamool Congress leader who heads the Singur panchayat samiti.
The agitations in Singur and Nandigram have been described as the two major factors that catapulted the Trinamool Congress to power in 2011, ending 34 years of Left rule. After taking charge, the Trinamool government placed emphasis on developing the Singur area, with better roads, kisan mandis, cold storages, and development of government hospitals and primary health centres.
Besides, the office of the district police superintendent was set up in Singur, and many of those who participated in the land agitation were provided government jobs.