The Supreme Court’s judgement on Singur is a reminder that in this seemingly harsh world, there is room for justice and that the weakest won’t be taken for a ride. This verdict can also checkmate land grab efforts and save the farmland
The Supreme Court’s judgment scrapping land acquisition in Singur and a report by the SN Dhingra commission on illegal and unethical land deal in Haryana, brings to the fore the fact that land remains the core to the economic and political realities of this country. The apex court’s judgment establishes the basic norm that the State cannot acquire land for private bodies. It also states that the court would stand by the most vulnerable section. It says that the weakest sections of the society alone cannot take the brunt for development. The judgment is expected to go a long way to save fertile multi-crop land losing its farm character.
In both cases, the State Governments of Haryana and West Bengal were actively involved for purposes that had least to do with public good. While the farmers are deprived of their land for a pittance, these lands fetch eight to 10 times more money for the powerful.
In Singur, the court not only scrapped the 1000-acre deal of 2006, but also found that the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee Government indulged in irregularities, misinterpreting public purpose, to benefit a company.
In reality, what had happened in Singur was far graver than what happened in Gurgaon. In the name of public interest, the West Bengal Government had entered into a secret agreement, granting largesse to Tata’s Nano.
The Government had given 997 acres of land to the Tatas at an annual rent of one crore rupees. The rent was gradually increased to Rs 20 crore. It had also given a loan of Rs 200 crore to the company at a nominal interest of one per cent a year. The State Government had also agreed to return the value-added tax that was to be paid on the sale of cars to the company, which had virtually made no investment. The choice of the land given à la carte to the Tatas, was an act of overcompensation.
Even compensation to the farmers was paid by the State Government and not the Tatas. The court has now allowed them to retain the compensation for loss to their 10 years of livelihood. It is a blatant misuse of State power to benefit a company, which was doing no charity. Its coffers are overflowing and the State power connived with it to deprive 2200 ‘unwilling farmers’.
Both in Gurgaon and Singur, one or more individuals or a company, with the backing of State power, was out to mint tonnes without investing a penny. Indeed, it is a brand new form of liberalisation at the cost of the poorest! In this context, it is to be noted that large-scale acquisitions and conversion of agricultural land, as well as forest land, for special economic zones (SEZs), mining, industries and urbanisation is taking place. Land acquired in the name of SEZs and industrialisation is also often at unfair terms, and is misused for real estate purposes. The Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) noted the non-utilisation of land earmarked for SEZs. Out of a total of 45,635.63 hectares of SEZ land allotted till 2014, work has begun in only 28,488.49 hectares. It found gross violations in 17 States of which in Odisha, 96.58 per cent of SEZ land remained unutilised.
In Odisha, over Rs75,000 crore was raised by mortgaging such land illegally; in 10 years only two per cent of projects were ready to start. Most companies that sought captive coal mines – and associated land – never used them, except to boost their own value. Several hectares of land acquired for SEZs invoking public purpose were later sold off or used for other purposes. Among the groups that diverted land acquired for SEZs are Reliance Industries and Essar Steel. Since the enactment of the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005, 576 formal approvals of SEZs covering 60,374.76 hectares was granted in the country, out of which 392 SEZs covering 45,635.63 hectares were notified till March 2014. Out of the 392 notified zones, only 152 had become operational, and SEZs had no noticeable impact on the national economy, the CAG said.
According to a calculation in the case of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor which passes through six States, there is a potential threat of loss of almost seven lakh sq km or 17.5 per cent of all agricultural land in the country to forcible acquisition.
In Uttar Pradesh, it is estimated that more than 23,000 villages would be affected by ongoing acquisitions. In the case of Yamuna Expressway, 1.43 lakh acres and another 37,362 acres for the Ganga Expressway are being acquired. Large tracts of land acquired for the Yamuna Expressway went for golf courses, the formula one racing track, and such projects with limited potential of creating jobs. The proposed 100 smart cities will also lead to widespread displacement and land grab.
Land acquisition is thus emerging as a major source of primitive accumulation and transfer of wealth and resources from the people to the corporate world. The Singur judgment will be a landmark in this context. No longer can the hands
that feed be taken for a ride. The apex court’s verdict is a reminder that in this seemingly harsh world, there is room for justice and fairness, and even the weakest won’t be taken for a ride in a democracy like ours.