NEW DELHI: In a major setback to automobile major Tata motors and the CPM, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the Left Front government's allotment of 1,000 acres of land for the now-aborted Nano car plant in West Bengal’s Singur, declaring that the entire acquisition process was illegal.
In their separate judgments, Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra agreed for different reasons to quash the acquisition process and return the land to thousands of short-changed landowners, farmers and cultivators, who have been fighting a prolonged legal battle for over 10 years. In 2006, the Left Front government's policy to acquire the land saw widespread protests in the state and ultimately led to an electoral victory for Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.
Justice Gowda said the acquisition of land in favour of a company by taking it away from the farmers cultivating it couldn’t be construed as for a public purpose. “In this day and age of fast- paced development, it is completely understandable for the state government to want to acquire lands to set up industrial units. What, however, cannot be lost sight of is the fact that when the brunt of this ‘development’ is borne by the weakest sections of society, more so, poor agricultural workers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state government,” Justice Gowda said.
But Justice Mishra differed, saying the acquisition was indeed for a public purpose as the car factory would have given thousands of jobs to the people there. He said there was no illegality on this aspect.
“When the government wants to attract the investment, create job opportunities and aims at the development of the state and secondary development, job opportunities, such acquisition is permissible for public purposes,” Justice Mishra said. But both judges agreed that the inquiry process that preceded the notification for acquisition was not properly held.
Justice Gowda said neither notice was issued to landowners nor were their objections properly considered. However, Justice Mishra said that there was no need to issue individual notices and that gazette notice was enough.
The bench ordered the state government to identify the land acquired in 10 weeks and return it to the farmers in the next 12 weeks. It further held that the farmers can retain the compensation paid to them as they were deprived of their 10 years’ income from the land. The state will have to pay compensation to those who were not already paid.
The court was hearing the landowners’ petitions questioning the manner in which their land was allotted by the then Left Front government without adhering to Sections 4 and 5 of the Land Acquisition Act.