The West Bengal government got a major relief on Friday when the Supreme Court extended the interim order of suspension of the Calcutta High Court judgment that struck down the law intended to reclaim Singur land leased out to the Tatas and to give a part of it back to farmers who were yet to receive compensation for it.
The High Court, while delivering judgment on June 22, suspended the operation of the judgment for two months to enable the State to move the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the State filed its appeal against the judgment.
A Bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad, after hearing senior counsel K.K. Venugopal and senior counsel K. Parasaran, said, “The interim order passed by the High Court suspending the operation of the judgment will continue until further orders.” The Bench granted four weeks for the parties to file their replies.
In its appeal, the State said despite possession being handed over to the Tatas and its approved vendors, the car project could not be set up by them. It noted that on October 31, 2008, the company wrote to the government, saying that it did not intend to use the land for the project. It said: “Thereafter, the small car project was abandoned by Tata Motors and was admittedly set up by it at Sanand, Gujarat, instead of the present site at Singur.” The company also said that it would be willing to move out of the land, provided it was compensated for the expenses incurred. “Thus the public purpose for the acquisition of lands stood completely and irreversibly defeated and frustrated.”
Justifying the law, the State said: “In view of this and the fact that farmers owning about 296 acres of land, which was the subject matter of proceedings, had refused to accept compensation and challenged the acquisition, the State stepped in and enacted the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011. Among other things, the Act was to re-vest the land in the State. It was also intended to provide compensation to the Tatas as determined by the Hoogly district judge. It is an Act for resumption of possession of land which was lying unproductive.”
The State said this acquisition was challenged unsuccessfully in the High Court and appeals were still pending in the Supreme Court. “However, it is a matter of public knowledge that the acquisition had resulted in violent protests by farmers/landowners.” But, the State said the High Court division bench, overturned a single judge’s order and struck down the law. The State in its appeal said the land was acquired in 2006 and, hence the Act was not intended to be an Act of acquisition. It was only intended to take back possession of the land, which was a State subject.
The High Court ignored the fact that the original acquisition was completed way back in 2006 and the State could deal with it in any manner dictated by public interest and the absence of a central law was totally irrelevant for this. “The State Act is a subsequent legislation, passed on account of subsequent events and for providing for matters not covered at all by the Land Acquisition Act, or by the judgement of the High Court upholding the original acquisition” the appeal said and sought the quashing of the impugned order and an interim stay of its operation.