15/09/2016 1:12 PM IST | Updated 15/09/2016 2:07 PM IST

Mamata Banerjee Makes A Turnaround, Offers 1,000-Acre Land To Tatas In West Bengal

New strategy.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
KOLKATA, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 14: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hands over land ownership documents to farmers at the Singur Divas Celebration rally at Singur in Hooghly. (Photo by Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal has offered the Tatas 1,000 acres of land in Goaltore in West Midnapore and a month to "think a little" about building an automobile plant there, The Telegraph reported.

The proposal was ironic on several counts.

The announcement was made on a day, earmarked as Singur Divas, to celebrate the return of nearly the same amount of land that had been acquired by the earlier Left Front government from farmers in Singur ten years ago.

In fact, it was made from a spot very close to the abandoned small-car factory in Singur, from where Mamata Banerjee and her party, Trinamool Congress (TMC), had asked Tata Motors to leave West Bengal in 2008 and set up operations in other states.

"I am saying this here today. I give you one month. Think a little. In a month's time, I will give you 1,000 acres of land. In Goaltore, we have such land in the land bank. Would you do it? It is our land, the government's, not snatched away forcibly from the people," Banerjee said.

After it came to power in 2011, the TMC-led government had passed a legislation to reclaim the land in Singur from Tata Motors, forcing them to leave the state.

Although Tata Motors moved to Sanad, in Gujarat, with their planned small-car factory, it challenged the law in Calcutta High Court, which ruled it unconstitutional. At this stage, the case was escalated to the Supreme Court, which said last month, in a landmark verdict, that the acquisition of agricultural land for the purpose of industry did not qualify as "public purpose".

READ: Supreme Court Cancels Tata Motors Deal In Singur, Asks West Bengal Government To Return Land

The ruling was seen as a moral victory for Banerjee, who had made Singur one of the key causes in her campaign to the oust the Left Front's stronghold over West Bengal for over three decades. The apex court not only asked for the land to be returned to the farmers but also exempted those who had already been compensated from returning the money as they had been deprived of a livelihood for the last ten years.

While the court ruling has left landowners joyous, casual labourers who till the land were apprehensive about their futures. Of the 150,000 people who had assembled to hear Banerjee's speech, a vast number was ordinary tillers, who had been promised jobs when the land was acquired by the Left Front but had got nothing so far. Many of them voiced their discontent, The Times of India said.

Since Banerjee's coming to power in 2011, a dole of Rs 2,000 per month is being paid to each labourer who worked in the land acquired for the site as well as to the families of the unwilling farmers, TOI added. At the meeting, Banerjee announced that it would continue to be paid to them until the land is made suitable for farming again. She also announced that landowners would be given a one-time grant of Rs 10,000 each to buy farming equipment and an easy loan facility from the West Bengal Agro Industries Corporation.

But the larger question of whether the land will be tilled again at all continues to haunt those affected.

Banerjee's latest offer to the Tatas comes in the wake of her efforts to bring more industry to West Bengal. She visited Germany, earlier this month, to court investors, including the German automobile manufacturer, BMW. Speaking at the event in Singur, Banerjee said, "We want more IT industry. We want manufacturing industry. We want employment-oriented industries, like textiles, agro, coal-methane, to come up."

Industrialists, however, were not thrilled by the chief minister's jubilation over the apex court's verdict on Singur. A government-sponsored event to celebrate the victory of Tata Motors is unlikely to send out a positive message to prospective investors in the state, some felt.

It remains to be seen how the Tatas will react to Banerjee's offer of friendship after being treated like a sworn enemy.

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