In a major landmark judgment on land acquisition, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres of land in Singur by then CPI (M)-led Left Front government in West Bengal to help Tata Motors set up its Nano car manufacturing plant.
The Bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra ordered restoration of land to the original owners and farmers within 12 weeks and ruled that they will not have to return the compensation awarded to them at the time of the acquisition.
It further asked the state government to complete the formalities and identification of the beneficiaries within 10 weeks for the purpose of returning the land; the bench reasoned that since the owners could not use land for 10 years, so they can’t be asked to return money they got as compensation.
In two separate judgments the two judges gave their own reasoning for quashing the acquisition process. Their common thrust was that the land acquisition process adopted by the then government was wrong on many counts.” The disagreement between the two judges was on how they see the land acquisition. While Justice Gowda said the land was not acquired for public purpose directly by the Tata Motors, Justice Mishra held that there was no illegality in the land acquisition for public purpose as it would have given employment to thousands of people in West Bengal.
The land was acquired a decade ago by the state government for the Tata Group to enable it to build its Nano car manufacturing factory. The verdict came as a huge setback to the auto major which did not return the land even while shifting the Nano plant to Gujarat in view of the agitation by the land owners led by TMC leader Mamata Banerjee. The company and the state government were since then locked in a tussle over who should possess the land. The Supreme Court put an end to the 10-year-ordeal, declaring that the initial land acquisition itself was “illegal and void,” as it failed to meet “requirements under the Land Acquisition Act 1894.”
In doing so, the Supreme Court has not only set aside a previous judgment of the Calcutta High Court, which upheld the land acquisition, but has also pointed out that the West Bengal government in 2006 “committed fraud of power in land allotment” by acquiring land for a private company and passing it off as a public good.
The happiest person was West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who hailed the verdict as a landmark victory. In a statement in Kolkata she said: “I had dreamt of this SC verdict for so long, for the people of Singur. Now I can die in peace. I would expect everyone to celebrate this as Singur Utsav, it’s like an invocation of the celebration to Durja Puja.”
An agency report said farmers and locals erupted in joy and celebrated by throwing ‘gulal’ on each other and raised slogans in praise of Mamata Banerjee, who first rode to power on the wave of protests against this land acquisition.
The Supreme Court had reserved its ruling in May after hearing the Tatas, the Bengal government and the aggrieved farmers of Singur.
Soon after coming to power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee had passed a law to take over the land after Tata moved its project out of the state to Gujarat’s Sanad district. Tata Motors moved the Calcutta High Court challenging the law. The acquisition of the land was upheld by both a trial court and the High Court while the law passed by the Mamata Banerjee government was declared unconstitutional on appeal.