By Anurag Dey
Singur (West Bengal), Hope and anticipation have given way to despair and anger in this rural belt where protests against land takeover for industry catapulted Mamata Banerjee to power in West Bengal one year ago.
Singur was abuzz with expectations when Banerjee, after becoming chief minister, had a law enacted to give back 400 acres of land said to have been forcibly acquired by the Left Front for the Tata Motors.
Almost a year after Banerjee was sworn in as chief minister on May 20, the plant still stands like a haunted house. But the project had to be scrapped after the company was forced to relocate to Gujarat due to a violent peasant agitation led by Banerjee. With legal complexities cropping up after the auto maker challenged the government in court, Singur is now a depressing picture of anguish and deprivation.
The 3,000 or so farmers who had rejected compensation for the land from the Left government believing Banerjee’s promise of returning their land when she took charge now face terrible times.
“We all believed her (Banerjee) and the promises she made. Now it seems they were just words never meant to be fulfilled. If she had the right intention, she would not have ignored us,” complained 70-year-old Krishna Chandra Manna who had lost four bighas of fertile land.
Manna’s view finds resonance among many others, who a year ago called the Trinamool Congress chief their beloved leader.
Mahadeb Das, a member of the committee which spearheaded the Save Farmland Movement, though not critical of Banerjee, conceded people were fast losing hope.
“When she became chief minister we all rejoiced. Now the hope of getting back our land is diminishing with each passing day,” Das told IANS.
Several others accuse the Trinamool of gaining political mileage at their cost and then deserting them.
“When they were not in power, there used to be a beeline of Trinamool leaders. After taking power they have not shown their faces. Even Banerjee has chosen to ignore us. We feel cheated,” said Joothika Manna, who once took pride in calling herself a diehard Banerjee supporter.
Those who willingly gave up their land and accepted compensation, though better off, blame the agitators for ruining their future along with their own.
“Had they taken the compensation and not agitated, the factory would have stayed which could have changed the fortunes of the whole area. We would have got jobs, schools, hospitals… All is lost now,” said Basudeb Das, who willingly gave up nearly five bighas.
Like Das, there are many who rue the lost opportunity and blame Banerjee for it.
The Trinamool lawmaker from the area, Becharam Manna, insisted that the party was trying its best to fulfill the promise of returning the land to the people of Singur.
“The formal procedures for returning the land is complete. We are awaiting the court’s verdict. We are sure of a favourable decision,” he said.
Singur Block Development Officer (BDO) Pulak Sarkar said the claims of about 3,000 applicants have been verified but the process of surveying and identifying the land was stalled because of the case.
Anuradha Talwar, one of those who earlier supported Banerjee, said the anger and frustration among Singur farmers was natural – as they have been without livelihood for years.
“But it will be too early to question the intentions of the government. Let the court’s verdict come,” Talwar told IANS.
With the arguments in the Singur case completed, all eyes are on the Calcutta High Court which is slated to give its verdict regarding the constitutionality of the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act that proposes to return 400 acres of land to the farmers.