Kolkata: The Mamata Banerjee government suffered a serious jolt when the Calcutta High Court on Friday struck down as unconstitutional and void the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, which had scrapped the land lease given to Tata Motors by the earlier Left Front regime.
Automobile giant Tata Motors had moved a division bench against the Calcutta High Court's Justice I.P. Mukerji's Sep 28 ruling, which upheld the Act. Upturning it Friday, the division bench of the high court gave the West Bengal government two months to appeal before the Supreme Court.
Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Mrinal Kanti Chaudhuri, constituting the division bench, said sections of compensation in the Singur Act were in conflict with the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The judges also said the legislation had been enacted without obtaining the assent of the president. The Mamata Banerjee government passed the act soon after assuming office.
The division bench also held that though the single judge had awarded compensation on the basis of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the court had "no power to insert, rewrite or reframe" the Singur act.
"The said part (dealing with compensation) is not sustainable," the division bench held.
The court has suspended for two months its order to enable the West bengal government to appeal to the Supreme Court, but has barred the state from disbursing reclaimed land in the interim period.
State government counsel Kalyan Bandopadhyay said the government would appeal to the Supreme Court against the judgment.
A total of 997 acres of land in Hooghly district's Singur was leased to the Tatas by the erstwhile Left Front government for the firm's Nano car project, along with several vendors who were to set up ancillary units at the site. While 645 acres were allotted to the company, the rest of the land was given to the vendors.
The automobile major had to shift its Nano small car plant to Sanand in Gujarat from Singur in 2008 because of protests by farmers led by the Trinamool Congress. The party sought the return of 400 acres taken from farmers, who were reportedly unwilling to part with their lands.
The Singur movement reversed the Trinamool's sliding electoral fortunes and it went from strength to strength over the next three years to unseat the Left Front from power.
Within a month of forming the government in May, Banerjee enacted the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, scrapping the land lease given to Tata Motors. However, the matter got locked in legal battles stretching from the Calcutta High Court to the Supreme Court.
Reacting to the verdict, Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra said the government is paying the price for not heeding to the opposition's plea to desist from making any discrimination between those farmers who were unwilling to part with the land and those who gave their land willingly.
"We had proposed that the government incorporate an amendment as brought by the Tamil Nadu government. But Mamata Banerjee does not listen to anyone, and expects everyone to only follow her orders. The court does not have the presidential assent. I don't know why she avoids all institutions like the assembly and the president. From an ethical point of view, she is in a weak position," he said.
State industries minister Partha Chatterjee, on the other hand, assured the farmers of Singur that the government would ensure return of 400 acres of land to the "unwilling" farmers.