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Singur Land Bill passed: Mamata fulfils promise

Kolkata: Amidst heated exchange of words and walkout by opposition members, West Bengal Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill scrapping the previous Left Front government`s deal with Tata Motors to return land to `unwilling` farmers in Singur, fulfilling a key election pledge of Mamata Banerjee.

The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011, enabled the government to return land to farmers who had unwillingly parted with their land and also did not accept compensation.

The bill vested the entire 997.17 acre of acquired land at Singur for the now abandoned Nano project along with the existing structure with the state government. The government would return equivalent quantum of land to "unwilling" farmers in 400 acre.

The remaining portion of the land would be utilised for socio-economic development, employment generation, industry and other public purposes.

The bill, piloted by Minister for Industries and Commerce Partha Chatterjee, was passed by voice vote in the absence of the Left Front legislators after Speaker Biman Bandhopadhyay declined to admit a point of order raised by Leader of the Opposition Suryakanta Mishra.

When the Bill was put to vote, the Left MLAs, who cited legal loopholes in the legislation, walked out of the House.

The debate on the bill was puncutated by occasional angry exchanges between the treasury and opposition benches.

Mishra, belonging to CPI(M), raised the point of order saying Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, during her speech in the debate, did not reply to the legal issues raised by him in relation to the Bill.

Participating in the two-hour discussion on the Bill, the Chief Minister said it had been brought to "undo the injustice" meted out to the people.

She said her government did not want to drive a wedge between `willing` and `unwilling` farmers but the situation forced it to resort to it.

She said the names of the willing farmers had not been recorded.

Meanwhile, the Tatas said they were studying the Singur Bill passed by the West Bengal Assembly.

"We are studying the Singur Bill which was passed today," a spokesman of the Tata Group said.

Stating that land could be returned if there was a will and dismissing the Opposition plea to withhold the bill for further scrutiny, Banerjee said her government`s first priority was to legally return the land to unwilling farmers.

Saying that the Left Front could have taken the same decision of returning the land to unwilling farmers, Banerjee said that it had to be done fast and every minute now was important "to us".

The chief minister said all decisions taken by the previous Left Front government for 35 years were unjust and Bengal had lagged behind.

Countering Mishra`s suggestion of amending the Land Acquisition Act 1894 as had been done in Tamil Nadu to return acquired land to farmers, Banerjee said the amendment allowed only leasing of land to farmers.

The state government, on the other hand, was keen on returning the land with full rights to unwilling farmers, she said.

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