Kolkata, Sep 3 (IANS) The West Bengal government may have promised to return the Tata Nano project land to farmers in Singur, but experts have voiced doubts over the “ecological and economical viability” of restoring the land to its pre-acquisition status.
“The Supreme Court verdict restores the land right of the farmers. But, ecologically converting the land into the cultivable state as it was earlier would not be possible,” said A.K. Chakravarti, professor at the Soil and Water Engineering Department at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya.
“As per the apex court order, it would be possible to return the land to peasants but to do so in a cultivable state and restore the earlier topography would be extremely difficult. Yield would not be what cultivators used to get before the acquisition,” he said.
“In fact, during the development of the land for the Tata Nano project, some water bodies were created to use the soil from them in land filing, as the area had mostly low-lying agricultural land. The water bodies have been retained to ensure additional sources of surface water. From the economic point of view, water bodies of a particular size have more yield than an agricultural land,” Chakravarti told IANS.
Two days after the Supreme Court quashed the land acquisition for the Tata Motors’ small car project by the erstwhile Left Front regime, the present Trinamool Congress government of Mamata Banerjee started the land survey on Friday and said it would complete the process of returning land within the time stipulated by the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, Chief Minister Banerjee chaired a high-level emergency meeting at the state secretariat Nabanna to decide on follow-up actions for implementing the judicial order.
The state government has announced that all land-losers will get the same plot of land which they owned before the acquisition in 2006. Banerjee also announced that her government would make cultivable whichever plot of land has become uncultivable.
“It is a daunting task to convert such land into a cultivable state. Nature of most of the land within the project area has surely changed because the land was acquired 10 years ago and in some parts of the project area, constructions were also carried out,” said Abhijit Kumar Nandi, a professor at the Agricultural Economics Department at the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswa Vidyalaya.
“Developers will have to source top soil from other areas. The major challenge will be to source the top soil which is the most important ingredient for cultivation,” Nandi told IANS.
“I will be surprised if even half of about 1,000 acres of land acquired for the project can be converted into a properly cultivable state,” Nandi said.
He also said sourcing of the top soil could lead to a surge in its prices. While it could be sourced by deploying workers under the 100-day work programme, a huge amount of top soil would be required for development of such a large tract of land.
“About Rs 15 lakh per acre may have to be pumped in over a period of one-and-a-half years. Then the land has to be left in that state for a year to season it and make it properly cultivable. I don’t know whether the investment will be worth it, and what the return on such investment will be,” Nandi said while estimating the cost of developing the land.
Both experts agreed that “the stipulated time-frame for returning land to farmers and that too in a cultivable state seems to be impossible”.
The apex court, which delivered its landmark verdict on August 31, has ordered that the land be returned within 12 weeks of receiving the copy of the judgement.
Ashis Ghosh, Director of the Centre for Environment and Development, said the top soil — the first two inches of soil — and the sub-soil, usually a layer of 12-24 inch (varying from place to place and depending on the condition of the soil nutrient), was destroyed within the project area where construction has taken place.
Citing the example of restoration of land at Suri in Birbhum district after the unsuccessful attempt of a coal-bed methane exploration project in 2010, Ghosh said: “In this particular project, British Petroleum did not find the project economically viable.
“As per the agreement with land-givers, they restored the land. In this connection we have worked there. Fortunately, after excavation of the plot, the project developers kept the top and sub-soil in the adjacent areas.
“It helped to restore the land and we didn’t have to source it from other places. We have also restored the nutrition of the land to a large extent by employing our traditional methods.
“However, the size of the land that was restored was hardly about three acres and it took more than six months to complete the development,” Ghosh added.
(Bappaditya Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)