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Gap in Singur consent claim and affidavit

Calcutta, March 27: The Bengal government today told the high court that land was acquired in Singur under a section that does not entertain disputes.

Such a fast-track process is legal but the figures provided along with the affidavit could provide ammunition to the Opposition in contesting the government’s claim that most of the land was acquired with the consent of the landowners.

The affidavit, submitted in response to a series of questions posed by the court, says that owners of 287.5 acres accepted the 10 per cent bonus offered by the government for agreeing to not move the court.

This translates to a little over 30 per cent of the total 958 acres acquired for the Tata small car plant and ancillary units. However, the government has been saying that 96 per cent of the owners had consented to the acquisition.

It could be construed that since the no-contest money was accepted by only those who owned 287.5 acres, the others did not give their consent.

However, cheques for as many as 650 acres have been collected till date, according to government officials. The figure — over 67 per cent, which is still lower than the 96 per cent set by the chief minister — could go up as the process is still on.

One reason for the disconnect could be absentee landlords, who may not have had the chance to either meet the deadline to apply for the no-contest cash or accept the cheques. The government can contend that the cheques would not have been picked up if the owners were unwilling to hand over the land.

According to Section 11 (1) of the Land Acquisition Act invoked in Singur, the sellers will have to accept the price set by the government, but they can move court. The additional 10 per cent was offered to those who agreed not to go in for litigation.

The other option before the government was Section 11 (2), which allows sellers a month to voice their opinion on the acquisition, followed by one-to-one meetings with the collector where they can drive a bargain and arrive at a consensus price.

But the government decided against the time-consuming process as other states were courting the Tatas with a slew of incentives.

“Land acquisition of this size usually takes over six months. But we had to complete the acquisition as fast as possible and had to wind up the process in two and half months,” an official said.

The public interest litigation, filed by the Legal Aid Forum challenging the land acquisition process, will come up for hearing on April 13.

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