Singur (West Bengal), Sep 14 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday invited the Tatas to set up an auto hub in the state as she redeemed a pledge made years back by returning 9,117 land records to farmers and compensating 800 from whom land had been forcibly taken for the Group’s Nano project in Hooghly district’s Singur.
Amid euphoric chants and songs eulogising her and her government, lakhs watched as Banerjee personally handed out the documents to many of the farmers who responded with warm smiles and touched her feet in gratitude at the Singur Diwas venue at Sanapara of Hooghly district.
It was the same spot of the Durgapur Expressway where Banerjee had held a 16-day sit-in protest in 2008 demanding 400 acres out of the total 997.11 acres acquired for the Tata Motors’ Nano project be returned to the “unwilling farmers”.
A visibly-elated Banerjee asserted that she had kept her promise.
“We had promised to return land. Now we have redeemed our pledge. Singur is a landmark in world history.”
Refering to the August 31 Supreme Corut verdict which had struck down the land acquisition made by the erstwhile Left Front government and ordered the land be returned to the cultivators, Banerjee said though the apex judiciary had given ten weeks to complete the land survey, her government will complete the process in seven-eight weeks.
Announcing a series of sops and welfare measures for Singur’s peasants before a huge turnout estimated to be around eight lakh, Banerjee said her government will provide Rs 10,000 to each family from whom land had been acquired.
“To enable peasants hire big equipment for farming, the West Bengal Agro-Industries Corporation will lend loans upto Rs 24 lakh,” she said.
The government will continue till the land becomes cultivable the monthly dole of Rs 2,000 being given to all farmers from whom land had been taken against their will.
Banerjee announced that small tubewells will be dug by the state irrigation department to provide water for cultivation and promised to make available fertilisers and high quality seeds.
She also announced that some of the roads and an electric supply office will be demolished to make way for farmland, but also warned that police cases would be lodged if anyone was found to have taken compensation cheques for the project “wrongly”.
She declared that from next year, September 14 would be celebrated as “Singur Divas” and a Singur Memorial would come up in memory of martyrs of the movement.
Lending a hand at the packed event were her party leaders including celebrities like actor Dev (Dipak) Adhikari, in the presence of intellectuals and activists including Narmada Bacho Andolan founder member Medha Patkar, who had supported Banerjee’s stance on the issue right at the outset.
A replica of an agricultural field installed at the venue in Hooghly district struck a chord with the peasants who erupted in joy and were overwhelmed with the celebrations which came two weeks after the Supreme Court verdict.
Along the route from Kona Expressway (National Highway 2) and Durgapur Expressway, festoons and banners showing gratefulness to Banerjee were displayed and a large numbers of welcome-gates installed.
Enthusiastic locals were perched on tree tops to watch the proceedings.
Singers Kabir Suman, Pratul Mukhopadhyay – leading figures in the anti-acquisiton struggle – belted out songs in the company of a galaxy of writers, painters, theatre activists and ex bureaucrats, who had also taken part in the movement.
Reaching out to the Tatas again, Banerjee suggested the group set up an auto hub over 1,000 acres in Goaltore of West Midnapore district and gave them a month’s time to think over the proposal.
“We work with lot of companies of their Group. Tomorrow we will sign a treaty with a Tata group company for setting up an Industrial Training Institute,” she said.
Urging the Tatas to accept “sportingly” the Supreme Court verdict, Banerjee said: ” I am giving you a month’s time, please think over. We have 1,000 acres of land with us at Goaltore. Will you set up an industry?
“If anybody wants to set up an auto industry, be it the Tatas or BMW, you can contact (Industries Minister) Amit Mitra, or my chief secretary or secretary of the industries department. If you do so, we will be very happy,” she said.
On the day the apex court delivered the Singur verdict, she had also welcomed the group’s investments in the state.
However, Banerjee reiterated her government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition and asked industrialists to negotiate directly with farmers.
A nostalgic Banerjee recalled vivid details of the anti-acquisition movement of 2006-2008 in Singur and East Midnapore district’s Nandigram which catapulted her party to power in the state in 2011.
She gave credit to the peasants for the struggles. “I was only with them. Let us share the credit”.
Banerjee was accompanied on the dais by family members of the martyrs and remembered late writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi’s unwavering support to the land movement.