SINGUR LAND-RETURN
Supreme Court&’s firm initiative

EVEN allowing for a distinction between an observation and an order, last Wednesday&’s advisory of the Supreme Court, addressed in part to the Tatas and in part to the West Bengal government, is a firm step towards resolving the imbroglio over Singur, indeed quite the most positive essay thus far towards compensating the dispossessed peasantry. A Division Bench (coram: HL Dattu and Dipak Mishra, JJ) has asked Tatas to consider returning the land to the government primarily for two reasons.
  The fertile tract of 1000 acres has been lying unutilised for more than five years. Second, the small car project has been shifted from Singur. “You are not carrying out any business there. You cannot expect any profit from the land. How should you come in the way of the state handing it back to the agriculturists?” was the Bench&’s query to the Tatas. The Bench has made it explicit to the company that it is a lease-holder… and “not the owner of the land”. The onus has also been placed on the government to file an affidavit on the modus operandi for the return of the lease rental that the State has received from the company for the past five years. And no less crucially, that the land will be returned to the original owners and will not be used for any other purpose. Mamata Banerjee&’s plan to set up a railway wagon factory must remain a pie in the sky.
Sandwiched between the  Tatas and the State is the peasant who has lost his land, indeed his only source of livelihood. He was shortchanged first by the CPI-M in its pursuit of a Panglossian industrialisation agenda. He was then let down by Tatas who dumped their plans and relocated to Gujarat. The only one to have remained firm on an agenda is West Bengal&’s chief minister. While the Singur Land Acquisition and Development Act was quashed by the Calcutta High Court, it is the challenge to this order that provoked the apex court&’s observation. The Tatas must reflect on the judiciary&’s suggestion, in particular its terse  message ~ “You cannot say that you still have interest in the land.” Indeed, both the company and the government need to take a serious call on the stark statement of fact ~ “The agriculturists must survive.” That struggle for survival continues. The farmer has won a moral victory; the Tatas have suffered a major loss of face.

DUCKING DUTY
Nitish Kumar seeks CISF

NITISH Kumar may have earned brownie points for immediately admitting inadequacies in his state machinery and asking the Central Industrial Security Force to “cover” the Maha Bodhi shrine. He might have been aware that such security upgrade has been sought at a few other religious centres too, though perhaps not alive to the need for amending the legal provisions under which the CISF functions ~ they do not take in shrines etc. No doubt legal technicalities can be resolved; it might take a while for the force to train squads for a new, specialised duty. Yet the bigger picture disturbs, it testifies to the ease with which state governments pass the buck on to New Delhi, duck their duty to run efficient police forces to execute their fundamental obligation to protect the life and property of citizens.
  The CISF has gone beyond what its nomenclature indicates to doing duty at private sector installations, the Delhi Metro and even fat cat industrialists etc. Instead of states allocating human and financial resources for police modernisation and upgrade, a central agency is asked to step in. A recent study points to a shortage of some 300,000 policemen in the nine Naxal-affected states: the 80,000 members of the central paramilitary currently deployed in the red zone do not make up the manpower gap. They also lack the local knowledge and “feel” for the prevailing conditions, poor coordination with the state police starves them of intelligence inputs, being “outsiders” adds to the complexity of their securing the support of the local populace. Though they inevitably have to assume the lead role, the central forces neither compensate in terms of numbers, or at times quality since it takes time for them to understand local undercurrents.
It would not be easy for the home ministry to turn down Nitish&’s request ~ the UPA is so openly wooing him to counter the BJP ~ but that would trigger demands from elsewhere too. This will increase the burden on already overstretched forces that will soon be required for exhaustive election duties. There is much hypocrisy at play too. Even as the states transfer tough tasks to the Centre, they make a fuss about their “sacred” right over law-and-order. Had the NCTC been functional, an intelligence input on Bodhgaya being a potential terrorist target might have evoked a better response.

KUKIS RIDE AGAIN
Uncertainty over political dialogue

THE 36-hour general strike called by Manipur&’s Kuki State Demand Committee ended on 9 July but brought no relief as it was immediately followed by a 48-hour economic blockade of national highways. The committee has threatened to launch an indefinite agitation if the Centre fails to initiate talks with its armed wing, the Kuki National Organisation which, after signing the “Suspension of Operation” with the Centre/Army in 2005, is waiting for a formal invitation. The Ibobi government took three years to be a party to “SoO” and has made it known that as a mere facilitating agent nothing can be expected of it. In December last year, the KSDC withdrew its indefinite blockade only after the Centre agreed to talk. At that point, New Delhi was left with little option because the KSDC blockade had threatened to stop the ongoing Asean-India motor car rally at Manipur&’s border town of Moreh. So, the KSDC cannot be blamed for renewing its agitation.
Even if a political dialogue is to start, there will be little to arouse expectations because the Centre does not know where to begin. For one, the Kukis’ homeland demand covers hill districts which are mostly Naga-dominated and some of these come under the NSCN(IM)&’s Greater Nagaland scheme. For more than 30 years the Nagas have objected to Kukis’ demand for conversion of the Sadar Hills into a separate revenue entity. And the Meities cannot be expected to maintain a studied silence over the issue for long.