The Calcutta High Court today struck down a 2011 Act that forced Tata Motors and its vendors to forfeit 997 acres taken on lease to build the Nano plant in Singur. The order, passed by a division bench, exactly a year after the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill was notified, termed the Act unconstitutional and void.
Though the verdict is being seen as a blow to the West Bengal government, the battle is far from over, as the state government is set to move the Supreme Court. Following the news, the Tata Motors stock rose to a high of Rs 251.20 before finally closing lower at Rs 247.
Giving its verdict on an appeal filed by Tata Motors, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh set aside the single-judge order, saying the Act was related to land acquisition but was in conflict with the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Moreover, the President’s assent had not been taken for the legislation.
|SINGUR SAGA: A TIMELINE
- May 18, 2006 Tata Motors announces its first plant for small cars would come up in West Bengal
- July 18, 2006 Mamata Banerjee sows paddy near Singur as a sign of protest against the announcement
- February 15, 2008 Tatas announce the first Nano would be rolled out of Singur by October
- August 24, 2008 Mamata Banerjee starts dharna at Singur
- October 3, 2008 Tata Motors decides to move out of Singur
- May 20, 2011 Mamata sworn in as Bengal CM, announces return of 400 acres to unwilling farmers
- June 14, 2011 The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill passed in the Assembly
- June 22, 2011 Tata Motors moves Calcutta High Court challenging the Bill
- September 28, 2011 Calcutta HC declares Singur Act valid, but stays order till Nov 2; asks govt to compensate Tata Motors in line with the Land Acquisition Act
- June 22, 2012 Caclutta High Court Division Bench scraps Singur Land Act
The bench, comprising Ghosh and Mrinal Kanti Chaudhry, held clauses 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the Singur Act were in contradiction with the Land Acquisition Act and, therefore, repugnant. The clauses dealt with transfer and vesting of the land, effect of vesting, payment of amount and transfer of land to unwilling owners and its utilisation.
The judges also said returning land to a handful of farmers could not be categorised as “public purpose”, as was stated by the government.
Hours after assuming the role of chief minister, Mamata Banerjee had announced the Cabinet had decided to return 400 acres to unwilling Singur farmers — fulfilling what was one of her pre-electoral pledges. Subsequently, after a flip-flop over an ordinance for the return of land, the Singur Act was passed in the legislative assembly by the state government, within a month of its formation.
Justice Ghosh said the issue of compensation was ‘vague and uncertain’ in the Act. The single-judge order had striven to rectify the Act by ‘purposive interpretation of the provisions of the Act’, but the division bench set aside the clauses that were inserted, and said the court had no jurisdiction in the guise of interpretation of the statute to rewrite or recast the Act.
The order has been stayed for two months. This implies the land will continue to be in possession of the state government till the order comes into effect. Banerjee chose to address the issue through her official page on Facebook. “I have no comments to offer on the Singur verdict. Throughout my life, I have struggled for the cause of the farmers, working class, poor and under-privileged. Our commitment to be with them will remain, whether I am in power or not. I will continue to fight for this cause. Finally, the people’s choice in democracy will prevail,” she posted on the social networking site.
Tata Motors refused to comment on its next move and said it would study the judgment delivered by the high court. But, the murmur in the court corridors suggested the company should come forward with a proposal for Singur.
West Bengal’s former commerce and industry minister, Nirupam Sen, who was instrumental in bringing the Nano project to the state, said it would be in the best interest of the state if the government and Tata Motors negotiated an amicable settlement. “The state should come up with a project in Singur. That is the best thing for the farmers,” he said.
Kalyan Bandopadhyay, the counsel for the state government, however, said the case would surely go to the Supreme Court.