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Central and state govts will be extremely cautious after Supreme Court's Singur verdict
The print media's front page headlines on Sep 01 morning greeted us with some important developments. A few of them: 1) Supreme Court quashes Singur land acquisition (2) GDP growth falters (3) Muslims have the highest per cent of illiterates (4) Pak to buy 8 subs from China worth USD 5 billion (5) John Kerry pleads to respect the right to protest (6) Panel probing Vadra deals finds irregularities (7) Kejriwal sacks minister in sex scandal.

Not surprisingly the electronic media as a whole has chosen the last two items for panel discussions with scores of experts hotly discussing rather shouting the pros and cons.

Sex misadventures and financial irregularities among our present day ruling class are not uncommon. What is so special about this ministerial misconduct or the dramatic rather quixotic response from a theatrical AK?

That Vadra's land deal was bad in law is well known to all. If Vadra's bad land deal can qualify to be such sensational breaking news, sun setting in the west should also get qualified for a special discussion with the informed experts shouting at each other in the TV studios.

Every passing day the electronic media proves that its sole motto is TRP. Shouting brigade's aim is nothing but noise making bereft of meaningful debate. Luckily the print media, though owned mostly by the corporate houses, stands differently from the maddening electronic media to give preference to issues of importance.

In line with that approach, the print media has given preference for items 1 to 5 listed above over the matter relating to 6 and 7. Singur land judgment was deliberately sidelined by the shouting industry (for obvious reasons). But it got the topmost coverage in the newspapers of all hues.

The Supreme Court on Sep 01 struck down the acquisition of about 1000 acres of land at Singur in West Bengal in 2006 by the then Left Front government for a Tata Motors plant, and said all of it must be returned to farmers within three months. It is a reality check to state acquisition of agricultural land under emergency clause for industrial projects of private companies.

A bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Kumar Mishra termed the acquisition illegal as it was carried out without following procedures. The judgment said though it is completely understandable for the government to acquire land to set up industrial units, the brunt of development should not be borne by the weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural workers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state.

Justice Gowda wrote that the acquisition for and at the instance of the company was sought to be disguised as acquisition of land for 'public purpose' in order to circumvent compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Land Acquisition Act. But Justice Mishra differed with Justice Gowda on whether the acquisition was for a "public purpose" or not. He concluded that the acquisition did indeed qualify to be for a public purpose as it would had given employment to thousands of farmers and youth.

But both the judges agreed that the state's inquiry process into the acquisition demand was a farce. State employed the emergency clause without even bothering to give the farmers a decent opportunity to raise their complaints. The court ordered for retainment of the compensation awarded to the land owners and the cultivators for being deprived of the use of their land for last 10 years. Those who haven't got any so far will have to be compensated by the state government.

The judgment is commendable as it is a check for the future arbitrary action of the state. The view of Justice Mishra that the acquisition was for public purpose as it would have given employment to thousands of farmers and youth is contestable. How many thousand farmers and local youth were employed by the shifted car plant at Sanand in Gujarat? And none of us including the judges give a thought about the plight of land users who are four to five times the number of land owners. Who will compensate the land users for the loss of livelihood for the last ten years?

Abolition of zamindari system and 'land to the tiller' were the clarion calls during the freedom movement. Mahatma Gandhi, during the Quit India Movement, requested the farmers to go back to the villages to cultivate leaving the movement in the hands of others.

He also wanted the farmers to go and take over the land from the zamindars. A foreign correspondent asked him, "Mr Gandhi, are you not instigating violence?" Gandhiji replied that he did not expect large scale violence as the zamindars would run away. Later they might come down to settle the disputes with the cultivators in panchayats.

Gandhi's disciples gave a near decent burial to the land reforms mooted during the freedom movement. Almost all other parties followed Congress in ditching the land reforms. Only Communists implemented the land reforms in the Left-ruled states giving inclusive benefits to millions of landless farmers. The dangerously violent Naxalbari movement in West Bengal and Kerala during the 1960s was tackled successfully not by guns but by this exemplary political will to distribute the land to the tillers.

But the Marxists changed their theme song from "Land to the Tillers" to "Land to the Lalas" in 2000s. Nandigram and Singur became the Waterloo for the comrades. And the people of West Bengal gave death sentence to the Left rule in 2011 and 2016.

The apex court's latest verdict completes the formalities of Left's funeral for the time being. The central and state governments using the brute state power to snatch land from the farmers arbitrarily in the name of public purpose and handing over the land to private promoters will be extremely cautious now after the Singur verdict.

Thanks to the Supreme Court for telling our rulers that the farmers are no more under the East India Company.  

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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