Activists hail SC verdict cancelling Singur land acquisition (Malik/Catch News)
But the judgement has reverberated across the country – it has instilled hope among many such movements, which are fighting state governments and private firms taking away land.
On 30 August, the Supreme Court cancelled the 2007-08 land acquisition by the West Bengal government for a car plant in Singur. The judgement said that the “weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural workers” should not bear the “brunt of development”.
It held that people’s grievances were not taken into account when the factory was planned.
One of the two judges who delivered the verdict even said that the purpose for building the factory – to manufacture the Tata Nano car – did not amount to ‘public interest’.
The bench has ordered the state government to return the acquired land to the farmers within 12 weeks, and not recover the compensation that was awarded to them.
BOOST FOR OTHER MOVEMENTS
Activists associated with different struggles welcomed the verdict, pointing out that it is a shot in the arm for many of their demands – that not only should land not be forcibly acquired, but that land which is not used at all, or is used for purposes other than those stated, should be returned.
They also see this SC verdict as another victory after the passage of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, which replaced the 1894 colonial law that was considered more draconian (the Singur land was acquired under the old law).
“We welcome this historic verdict, and thank the SC for returning land that was taken without people’s permission,” said Alok, an activist with the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan. Alok said there were many instances in the state, like the case of Tata Power, where land has been acquired for a power plant in Handiguda, but the company has withdrawn the project.
“We demand that the Chhattisgarh government should now return all such unused land. In the 2013 Act, there is already a provision for this, but the SC verdict will ensure it is enforced,” he said.
Faisal Anurag, an activist from Jharkhand, said: “The verdict will have a long term impact, especially in tribal regions where the government has been avoiding returning unused land back to the original owners.
“First, the 2013 Act gave a big support to people’s demands. In Singur, the court returned the land taken away from people forcibly. Now, people will refer to the verdict to insist that their land can’t be taken away from them at all.”
Deep Singh Shekhawat, who is associated with a six-year long struggle against land acquisition by cement plants in Navalgarh, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, added: “The SC verdict found fault in the procedure of acquisition for the Singur plant. If you start investigating here, you’ll find all kinds of mistakes in the procedure.
“We are in the same situation as Singur. Now, farmers here feel that they will also get justice if they approach courts. After all, we are in the same country.”
Another anti-land acquisition activist, Jitendra, said: “Most agitations against land acquisition are targeted against private companies, be it Posco and Vedanta in Odisha, or India Cements in Rajasthan. The verdict has strengthened these struggles.”
SUSPICIOUS OF GOVERNMENTS
However, there isn’t a uniform positivity about the verdict. Anil Chaudhary of the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) said that although the verdict is important, one needs to wait and watch. He said that governments are known to violate laws and court orders, and while many such orders have previously come in favour of the people in one particular area, their impact was not felt in other struggles.
“The matter of returning unused land was already in the spirit of the 1894 law, and in the letter of the 2013 law. Yet, the government has not implemented it. In fact, it has tried amending the 2013 law to remove this clause. The scenario
very chaotic, and the government will take advantage of such situations,” he said.