The Supreme Court ordered the return of about 1,000 acres acquired in Singur for a Tata Motors factory to farmers, setting aside the 2006 decision of West Bengal's then Left Front government that had handed over most of the land to the company to make its Nano minicar there.
A bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Kumar Mishra termed the acquisition “illegal“ as it was carried out without following procedures, and asked the current state government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to take back the land from the company and hand it to farmers within 12 weeks. Banerjee, initially as an opposition leader and then as the state's chief minister, has been campaigning to return the land to the farmers.
The farmers who were paid for acquiring their land for the plant can keep the compensation, as they were deprived of their land for ten years. Those who haven't got any so far will have to be compensated by the state government.
Tata Motors said the SC order was over the land acquisition by the state government before it was leased to the company . “Our case relating to Singur Act of 2011 is yet to be heard by the Supreme Court.We will study today's judgement in detail before commenting further on the same,“ said a Tata Motors spokesperson. The Calcutta High Court had earlier upheld the acquisition of the land, prompting the farmers who previously owned the land to move the top court. The Tatas had expressed a desire to retain the land, much after protests by the locals led it to shift the Nano plant to Gujarat's Sanand, saying that it was allotted the land legally and had paid the state for it. The Tatas argued that the law could not be sacrificed for the sake of “furthering political agendas“, suggesting that the opposition to the project was politically motivated. The court, however, ruled in favour of the farmers. “... it is true that rule of law cannot be sacrificed for the sake of furthering political agendas, it is also a well-established position...that a stand taken by the state government can be changed subsequently if there is material... to show that the earlier action was illegal or suffers from legal mala fides or colourable exercise of power,“ Justice Gowda said.
The state must strictly follow the mandatory procedure for taking over land, the court said.
“In this day and age of fast paced development, it is understandable for the state government to want to acquire land to set up industrial units,“ the court said.But the brunt of this “development“ is borne by the weakest sections of the society , more so by poor agricultural workers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state government, it said.
Acquisition proceedings were perverse not because the land was acquired for an automobile unit which would generate employment and promote development, but because the acquisition done at the instance of a company was passed off as a public purpose. “This action is grossly perverse and illegal and void ab initio... and cannot be allowed under any circumstance,“ Justice Gowda said.
The two judges differed on the reasons for quashing the land acquisition -Justice Mishra ruled that the acquisition was for a public purpose as it had been brought with public fund. But both agreed to quash the acquisition saying notices weren't issued to the affected, objections not considered with due application of mind and compensation declared without considering the market value of the land.