Mandates that acquired land be returned to farmers within 12 weeks
Striking a resounding blow to capitalist acquisition of land by the State at the cost of livelihood to farmers, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the allotment of 1,000 acres of land by the former CPM government in West Bengal to Tata Motors in 2006 for the company’s aborted project to start a Nano car plant in Singur, declaring that the “entire acquisition process was illegal”.
A bench of Justices V. Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra agreed for different reasons, in their separate judgments in the case, to quash the acquisition process of the land and return the land to thousands of short-changed landowners, farmers and cultivators, who have been fighting a prolonged legal battle in the courts for over 10 years.
The judgment is a slap on the State’s Left policy to acquire the land, which had seen widespread protests in the State and ultimately led to an electoral victory for the Mamta Banerjee government. The judgment also affects any future plans by the country’s prominent industrial house, Tata Motors, to use the land for their projects.
Justice Gowda said the Land Acquisition Collector did not assign any reasons, revealing that the state government did not apply its mind in issuing notification in favour of acquiring land in favour of the company. Justice Gowda also disagreed against passing a composite compensation for landowners.
Again the judges differed on the issue of notices to the landowners. Justice Gowda said individual notice should have been issued to them for voicing prior objections against the acquisition. But Justice Mishra said there was no need to issue individual notices, gazette notice was enough.
“We have concurrently quashed the acquisition and compensation proceedings. The appeals (by farmers) are allowed,” Justice Gowda spoke for the Bench.
The Bench ordered the State government to identify the land acquired in 10 weeks and return the land to the farmers in the next 12 weeks.
“Restore the ownership of the lands to cultivators,” the Supreme Court directed the State.
It further held that farmers can retain the compensation paid to them by the State as they were “deprived” of their 10 years’ income from the land by the State’s acquisition. The State will have to pay compensation to those who were not paid.
The court was hearing petitions filed by farmers questioning the manner in which over 1,000 acres of land was allotted by the CPM government to Tata Motors in 2006 without adhering to Section 4 and 5 of the Land Acquisition Act, which mandate public notice for receiving objections.
Justice Gowda, reading his judgment, said the acquisition of land in “favour of a company” by taking it away from the farmers cultivating it cannot be construed as a “public purpose”.
But Justice Mishra differed on this aspect, saying the acquisition of land in favour of Tata Motors for a car plant was indeed a public purpose as the factory would have given thousands of persons jobs. He said there was no “illegality” on this aspect.
But both judges agreed that the enquiry process which led to the notification for acquisition was not properly held. “Either do as per law or not at all,” Justice Gowda said. Justice Gowda said notice was not issued to the landowners and their objections not properly considered.
In his turn, Justice Mishra held that the entire enquiry process stands vitiated.
Justice Mishra observed that though the acquisition was made for a public purpose, the project has moved to Gujarat and the “need has come to an end… quash the entire acquisition process”.
Here is what happened in the case:
The CPM led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya came back to power in West Bengal in 2006 and the state government announced in May that year that Tata would setup a car manufacturing unit to roll-out its Nano model for which close to 1000 acres of land would be allocated. Trinamool chief Mamata Benarjee kicked up a storm and started to protest against the acquisition of land by the Tata group.
The following year, in 2007, Tata however started construction of the plant in Singur. Mamata Benarjee paced up the protest by announcing indefinite hunger strike on the issue but later broke her 25-day fast in December 2007. Tata Motors announced the launch of Nano at Delhi auto expo on January 10, 2008.
In 2008, The Calcutta High Court upheld the land allocation by the government to Tata saying it wasn’t illegal. Tata had announced to push its first Nano car out of Singur. Mamata resumed her protest which led to talks between the Bengal government and TMC. Facing opposition, Tata finally announced to move its plant to Sanand in Gujarat citing security reasons to continue production in Singur.
In 2011, Mamata Benarjee stormed to power halting the Left government’s rule in the state. Her protest “Save Farmland” against the Singur land allocation and the one against Nandigram violence were said to be one of the reasons to revive her political career in the state. After assuming power, Mamata made her first Cabinet decision to return 400 acres of land to “unwilling farmers”. The TMC-led government passed Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011. Soon after, Tata moved Calcutta High Court challenging the Bill. The HC upheld the Bill following which Tata moved the court again challenging its orders.
In 2012, a Division bench of the Calcutta High Court struck down the bill after the West Bengal government moved Supreme Court challenging the HC order. The apex court had sought response of Tata Motors on a special leave petition filed by the West Bengal government, challenging the rejection of the Singur Land Acquisition Act by the Calcutta High Court. A bench of H L Dattu and C K Prasad said the Calcutta High Court’s interim order would continue.
In 2013, the Supreme Court asked Tata Motors to consider returning the land as the company had already moved its car plant out of Singur. Tata Motors told SC that it wanted to retain land in Singur for the Nano project.
In May 2016, the SC observed that the Left Front-led Bengal government rushed through the land acquisition process. On August 31, the Supreme Court quashed the land acquisition to Tata by CPM government in 2006, setting aside the Calcutta High Court order
Source The Hindu and The Indian Express