The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Govt puts foot down on land
- Sen to Basu: Singur plot can’t be returned

Calcutta, June 10: The state government has told Jyoti Basu that it would not be legally possible to return land acquired for Tata Motors in Singur to “unwilling farmers”.

The decision was conveyed to the CPM veteran by industries minister Nirupam Sen on a day both the government and Mamata Banerjee appeared to be hardening their positions.

The situation in Nandigram, too, turned ugly as some CPM supporters who returned to their homes yesterday were again forced to flee.

Apparently convinced by Sen’s arguments, Basu disclosed at a party meeting in Baguihati that the industries minister met him at his Salt Lake residence today to explain the government’s stand.

The discussion assumed significance in view of the CPM patriarch’s earlier sympathetic ear to Mamata’s complaints about land acquisition in Singur. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Sen are opposed to redrawing the layout of the Tata project, which, they fear, might prompt the company to consider other options.

Today’s assertion that the project land is non-negotiable is being seen as an attempt to clear the air in the wake of a perception that Mamata, at her meeting with Basu, had succeeded in reopening the Singur issue.

Sen later told The Telegraph that nor would it be possible to offer alternative land outside the Tata project area to the “unwilling farmers”.

“I have been maintaining for long that the law does not permit the return of the land. Neither is there scope for offering alternative plots outside the acquired land. How can we acquire other people’s land to settle the unwilling farmers' Nor can the government buy land for them since prices are skyrocketing in Singur,’’ Sen said.

He also dismissed as “speculation” suggestions that an additional amount would be offered to make the compensation package more attractive.

Nor is the government thinking of promising jobs to land-losers in Singur, he added. “The government can’t give jobs. It is the Tatas’ affair. I have not spoken to the Tatas on this issue.”

He said the focus of the government’s “fine-tuned” compensation and rehabilitation package would be on creation of “diverse kinds of alternative livelihood for the project-affected people, including sharecroppers and agricultural workers”.

Basu dropped hints that he found merit in Sen’s case. The former chief minister described a note being prepared by Sen as “an excellent document” on the compensation package.

“Nirupam came to me with a note, which he is working on, explaining the government’s policy. He said Supreme Court orders prohibit the states from returning land acquired for development projects. Mamata also has a law degree. I don’t know whether she is aware of the Supreme Court order and appreciates it.’’

But Basu appeared keen that the dialogue should continue. “I advise Mamata to set up a committee of her colleagues, or she herself may be part of it, to negotiate with the chief minister and Sen,’’ he said.

Mamata’s initial reaction did not hold any surprises. “I shall not talk to Buddhababu. How can I sit with a man who has blood on his hands'” she asked.

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