SC strikes down Singur land acquisition for Tata Nano plant

SC strikes down Singur land  acquisition for Tata Nano plant

The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the CPM-led West Bengal government’s decision in 2006 to acquire about 1,000 acres for Tata’s Nano car plant at Singur.

Declaring the entire process ‘illegal’ and ‘void’, a bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra ordered the land be returned to the farmers and cultivators within 12 weeks. The court also saw no reason for recovering the compensation paid to the land owners as the government kept the possession of the land for 10 years, depriving farmers and cultivators of any benefit.

The court’s judgement on a batch of petitions by farmers and land owners came as a big boost to the Mamata Banerjee government, which had made the land acquisition a political issue, snatching the mantle of the state from the Left parties in 2011 after a 34-year rule.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee termed it a landmark verdict, while the Tatas, which had in 2008 abandoned the project and shifted the plant to Gujarat, said they would prefer to go through the judgement before reacting.

The state government paid Rs 8.5 lakh for every acre of single-crop land and up to
Rs 12 lakh for every acre of multi-crop land. To win over unwilling farmers, it offered an additional 10% of the amount award, if they accepted the compensation cheques by September 22, 2006. The government also promised wages for 300 days to unregistered sharecroppers and field labourers, from the day of the official land acquisition.

In the 204-page judgement, Justices Gowda and Mishra concurred on quashing of the acquisition, but differed in their opinion on the issue if the land could be acquired for “public purpose” to set up industry by the state governments.

“The acquisition of the land 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. This action of the state government is grossly perverse and illegal and void ab initio in law,” Justice Gowda wrote, while heading the bench.

In his separate verdict, Justice Mishra, however, said, “Acquisition of land for a company or for industrialisation if it is for public purpose would be covered under section 3(f) as amended of the Act and when corporation is the acquiring authority and amount of compensation is borne by it in entirety and land has been ultimately leased out to Tata Motors Ltd for its project by it, the acquisition would remain for a public purpose.”

The apex court allowed appeal against the 2008 verdict of the Calcutta High Court, which had held as valid the acquisition of land in Hoogly district by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya government for Tata’s small car project with an estimated investment of Rs 1,000 crore and employment potential of 6,500 people. The West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, through which the land was then acquired, had deposited Rs 138 crore as compensation.

In his decision, Justice Gowda said the state government can acquire land to set up industrial units, but the voice of “poor agricultural workers (farmers)” have to be heard before depriving them of their means of livelihood.

“Compliance with the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act cannot be treated as an empty formality, as that would be akin to handing over the eminent domain power of the state to the executive, which cannot be permitted in a democratic country which is required to be governed by the rule of law,” he said.

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