One fine day, if you are told, that the land on which you live and earn your livelihood from, is sold, don’t be surprised. Don’t even bother asking, who sold it, to whom has it been sold and for what purpose? The answer you will get is, your land is taken away by the government, for “public interest” i.e. ostensibly your interest, for a so called “reputed company” and the rest is a “closely guarded secret”.
After enumerable land acquisitions by the state, under the veil of “public interest”, the Tata- Singur issue is just another feather in the hat. The small and fertile town of Singur gained popularity overnight, on being chosen as the land from where the “people’s car – Tata Nano” will roll out. Instead of the people and their achievements, people’s protest against state action, bagged popularity to the town. The multiple crop land that fed not only thousands of farmers and landless labourers from the vicinity, but also an equal number of non farming communities who eke their livelihood from the ancillary occupations such as the cycle-cart drivers, the vendor and suppliers and the carpenter and the blacksmith, will now be used to manufacture cars.
Subsequent to the state government’s acquisition of land within the purview of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the company got its hands on the land. The archaic law permits the state to acquire land for private companies, for the purpose of “public improvement”. Two contentious words used here, “public” and “improvement”. Who is public? What does improvement mean? According to populist opinion, “public” means the industrial or business class elite and “improvement” simply signifies infrastructure and industries. If you don’t fall under both these categories, you are outside the scope! Expectedly, the arrangement met with protests from a wide spectrum of people. Beginning with the opposition party leader Mamta Banerjee and various activists and NGO’s at the forefront, the most affected displaced farmers followed.
The duo, in defence, highlighted the employment and growth benefits of the project. What benefit will the displaced farmers and those engaged in ancillary occupation get? They are not the ones who are going to be driving the supposedly “people car”; neither are they going to be employed. The capital intensive production line requires only unskilled labour. So, even if employed, the skilled farmers of Singur will now be placed at the lowest rung of unskilled labourers. Yet, they will be the one who will share any industrial risk that arise. The state neither has an answer for the forceful eviction nor for giving land to the company at a subsidised rate. It is a mere reflection of the disastrous mode of “development” that we are embracing today. Development of one at the cost of the other!
Why do states adopt “industrialisation” as the only formulae for growth? Is it the only answer to over population, unemployment and poverty in states? Out front, it seems to be the easiest option, to create alternate employment for the agricultural labourers, reduce dependence on land, increase employment opportunities and bring the state out of the economic pit. Peeping in a little deeper, the inseparable link between the state policies and the cause of such unfavourable conditions is evident. It is manifest that the state wears a cloak of “public welfare” and underneath lies political gimmickry, vested interests and monetary gains. The cloak cannot, for long, hide the rampant land acquisition, state sponsored militia and the new form of “development”. This is a vicious circle in which we are trapped today. There is something really wrongly, somewhere.
In this bargain, the opposition leader Mamta Bannerjee took the cake. The self proclaimed champion of industries for people, won the elections, by leading the uprising of the hapless farmers, against the same industries whose champion she claims to be and thereafter passed the Singur Land rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, to do good to her multi faceted manifesto. The Act in effect annuls the Contract of the former government and requires land to be returned to the farmers. The Tata’s challenged the validity of the bill by calling it a “colourable legislation”. There is a doctrine of colourable legislation recognised under the constitution. It means indirectly doing something which cannot be done directly. Wavering from the strict legal connotation of the doctrine, it is evident how Mamta Banerjee guised her real intentions and how her political gimmickry succeeded. Her intentions, indeed, were “colourable”. Similarly construed, would not the contract of the preceding government, under the veil of “public improvement”, violating all possible fundamental rights of the forcefully evicted farmers, also be regarded as a “colourable”? Condoning the gimmickry, the statute only annuls the contract which from the very beginning was fraught with abuses of all possible kinds.
This leads us to another imperative question; can a statute retrospectively annul a government contract? For, if each successive government would pass a law to annul actions of its predecessor, it would lead to havoc in the country. Yes it would. But in this jugglery of political and economic interests, the people cannot be made guinea pigs. At some point there will have to be, political, legislative and moral accountability and maturity. Until then, the chain of revenge will continue and we will enough material to fill out dailies.