In any battle, legal or political, there are winners and losers. But the important thing is often not which side wins it or who the loser is. The crucial issue at the heart of the legal battle over the Singur case is much larger than what the verdict of the Calcutta High Court may suggest. There were petty lapses in the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, which the West Bengal government had used in order to take over the Tata Motors’ land. The lapses had made the legislation vulnerable in a court of law. The high court’s judgment does not, therefore, come as a surprise. But the larger question is how Bengal can move forward from the policy stalemate that the Singur case has come to symbolize. For the past six years, the state’s politics — and economy — have been held captive by the battles that Singur and Nandigram represented. It was as if nothing else mattered for the state. However, the reality is that Bengal cannot afford to let such battles carry on endlessly and thereby darken an already bleak economic horizon.
It is clearly time to go forward. How the state government and the Tata Motors resolve the Singur issue between themselves is what matters for Bengal’s larger interest. Not even Mamata Banerjee denies that industrialization is the key to modernizing Bengal’s economy. The critical issue is how to acquire land for new industries. Given the density of its population and the fragmented nature of land holdings in Bengal, it is almost impossible for private entrepreneurs to acquire large tracts of land necessary for setting up industries on their own. Three decades of so-called land reforms by the previous Left Front government have created a situation in which far too many stakeholders — owners, sharecroppers and others — lay claim to most agricultural plots. Few entrepreneurs would venture into acquiring land and facing endless legal tussles with so many claimants. The only realistic solution is a proactive role for the state government. Only the government can help build the political will and other kinds of support necessary for the acquisition of large plots of land. Of course, there is no question of either the government or a political group using force in order to acquire land. It is also necessary to ensure that the farmers get remunerative prices for the land they sell or adequate compensation for the plots that are acquired.
However, such issues are secondary to the basic need for transforming Bengal’s economy. A predominantly agrarian economy is incapable of creating jobs or generally improving the quality of life. A land-scarce state like Bengal cannot afford to delay the necessary transition. A state where nearly 70 per cent of the people still live on agriculture is a case study in stunted growth. Freeing land for commercial uses is the only way forward.