SINGUR: Over two years after they got back possession, farmers in West Bengal's Singur now demand "no more politics" with their land but have exhorted the government to "make it cultivable or use it for productive purpose".
The farmers' demand came on the eve of polling in Hooghly Lok Sabha seat, under which Singur falls, in the fifth phase of the ongoing general elections.
While the state's ruling Trinamool Congress has focussed on a Tata company's decision to shift its registered office to the state, despondency over a large chunk of land remaining infertile in the rural hamlet, one of the crucial assembly segments of Hooghly, is prominent.
"Despite disputes over proper demarcation, we have got papers of our land back but they are of no use as the area has become a wasteland. Our land remains infertile. We are upset after seeing unwieldy growth of shrubs, and slush and filth on our land.
"Our only appeal to politicians is to make it cultivable or use it for productive purpose," Ramen Patra of Bajemelia village, who got nine kathas (one katha is 720 square feet) of land back, told IANS.
Agreeing, former panchayat member and Trinamool activist Pradyut Ghosh, whose family got back about four acres of land, mostly in Beraberi mouza, lamented "inappropriate use of resources" by the administration to make the land fertile again.
"We were adamant that we won't give our land and stood up against the Left Front's atrocities. The present state government has spent resources to make the land cultivable, but its efforts went in vain. Had funds been given to farmers directly, instead of giving it to local administration for cleaning up and converting it into crop-land, farmers would have done the work successfully," Ghosh told IANS.
Singur was on the boil between 2006 and 2008 after the then Left Front government acquired 997.11 acres of land for setting up the small car factory.
Demanding return of 400 acres to farmers from whom land was allegedly taken against their will, the then opposition Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee spear-headed a violent and sustained movement that ultimately forced the automobile giant Tata Motors to shift its small car plant to Sanand in Gujarat.
The movement raised Trinamool's popularity graph, and it went from strength to strength to oust the 34-year-old Left Front government in the 2011 Assembly polls.
Soon after coming to power in the state, the Mamata Banerjee government promulgated the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act and acquired the land to keep its promise of returning 400 acres to the "unwilling farmers". However, the Tatas took the legal route.
After a prolonged legal battle and following the apex court order to return land to farmers, the state handed it back.
Mahadeb Das, then an unwilling land-loser and local Trinamool activist who got back 1.3 acres, told IANS: "About 400 acres of land are now cultivable, while 500-600 acres of acquired area still remains barren. Unless this land is made cultivable, how can we start farming. Some efforts were made by the state government to convert it into cultivable land but they were not successful."
However, a twist in the poll campaign came when Tata Sponge Iron, a subsidiary company of Tata Steel, announced its board of directors has approved shifting the company's registered office from Odisha to West Bengal.
Quickly seizing the opportunity, the Trinamool showcased it as the state government's success in bringing large industries.
Party's chief national spokesperson Derek O'Brien in a video message said there are many Tata companies like Tata Global Beverages, Tinplate, Tata Metaliks and "it is all happening in Bengal" despite "negative propaganda" of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Asked about the Tata firm's decision, Patra said: "It sounds good. We had given land in view of the fact that the new generation could get an opportunity here only. Is agriculture profitable now? See, sons of many unwilling farmers who fought for their land are working outside to sustain their families."
Amid resentment among farmers in this rural hamlet, Trinamool's Ratna De Nag, who is seeking re-election, could see a slip in votes though she had secured over 30,000 lead over the CPI-M then candidate Pradip Saha in 2014. The BJP is also gaining influence in the area.
Many farmers, who also got back their land, admitted the rise of the BJP here was a result of the people getting "fed up with the atrocities of local Trinamool leaders".
"We saw CPI-M's torture and now, we are experiencing that of Trinamool. People will decide whom they choose. They will elect the party which will solve our land issues and stop muscle-flexing," a farmer told IANS requesting anonymity.
Trinamool's De Nag is pitted against BJP's Locket Chatterjee, CPI-M's Saha and Congress' Pratul Chandra Saha.