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Minister plays with fire and judges in Singur

Dec. 2: Singur spearhead-turned-minister Becharam Manna today cast aspersions on some judges and warned of “people descending on the fields” to “enact a new law” if the Supreme Court verdict on the land reclamation law went against the state government.

“If the Supreme Court verdict goes against us, the people of Singur will descend on the fields and enact a new law,” Becharam, a frontline face during the agitation who was made a minister less than a fortnight ago, told a public meeting today.

“Tata and the CPM got together and, with the help of judges loyal to them, defeated us in the Singur case,” the minister added, addressing a gathering on “Singur day”, which commemorates a clash that followed the start of fencing for the Nano factory.

Becharam’s comments appear to have been intended at dousing the flames of discontent sweeping Singur, where “unwilling farmers” have received neither the land nor the compensation. So stung was Mamata Banerjee by the signs of dissent from the ground that she convened an administrative meeting in Singur last week.

Becharam did say “we abide by and respect the law”. But he runs the risk of coming under judicial scrutiny at a time a legal procedure is under way to determine if a case can be made out against the chief minister for certain comments she made on the judiciary in August.

Unlike the chief minister, who did not refer to any specific case, Becharam has mentioned the Singur case while speaking about the Tatas, the CPM and judges. Becharam was this evening addressing a public meeting, not a seminar in the Assembly complex where the chief minister had spoken.

The minister’s statement appears also to be a response to a section of people in Singur who feel that the state government should sort out the issue with the Tatas instead of getting drawn into litigation.

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, former city mayor and vice-president of the CPM-affiliated Democratic Lawyers’ Association, said tonight from Guwahati: “The issue is a matter of contempt and I will move a contempt petition after going through the minister’s statements on my return.”

Arunava Ghosh, a senior Calcutta High Court advocate, said: “This is purely a contempt case… for the derogatory comments he has made to malign the judiciary and particular judges of Calcutta High Court.”

CPM state secretariat member Sujan Chakraborty sought Becharam’s dismissal and the launch of criminal proceedings.

Congress chief spokesperson Abdul Mannan, who too was associated with the Singur movement, demanded that Becharam be “dismissed”.

Becharam has made the statements at a time the Mamata government has come under pressure in Singur, the force-multiplier that propelled the Trinamul Congress to power. Last week, villagers had confronted Becharam in public, peppering him with questions on what they had gained while the party had won power.

The open expression of disgruntlement had coincided with the first rebellion by a Trinamul cabinet minister, Rabindranath Bhattacharya, who was closely associated with the Singur agitation.

Although Mamata had made Singur the signature tune of her administration initially, her efforts to return land to owners who had not accepted compensation have not borne fruit yet.

After missteps brought about by haste, Mamata did manage to pass a law and take the land back from the Tatas. The law was upheld by a single-judge bench of Calcutta High Court but overturned by a division bench. The matter is now pending in the Supreme Court.

Becharam today assured the meeting that the farmers would get their land back and expressed hope that the Singur case would be settled in court by January.

On Friday, Mamata had said land would be returned after the verdict but she had not referred to any scenarios relating to the outcome in the court or the response thereafter.

This evening, Becharam took that assurance several steps ahead with the suggestion of another campaign in the event of an adverse verdict in the apex court.

Becharam issued a call to keep away a section of the media from Singur. “I will ask the people of Singur to be careful about outsiders who are coming to Singur. Don’t allow those media that are distorting news and creating confusion to enter the villages. Also, be careful about outsiders coming to Singur,” he said.

Six CPI-ML (Liberation) workers who went to Singur to speak to the “unwilling farmers” were detained but later released.