Single judge’s order set aside, setback to Mamata government

In a setback to the Mamata Banerjee government, a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court on Friday struck down the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, terming it “unconstitutional and void.”

The law was enacted by the Trinamool Congress-led government to return a portion of the land acquired for the Tata Motors’ small car factory at Singur to “unwilling farmers” — in fulfilment of a key poll promise.

The Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Mrinal Kanti Chaudhuri set aside the order of single judge I. P. Mukerji who had ruled that the Act was “constitutional and valid.”

Kalyan Banerjee, Trinamool Congress MP and one of the lawyers for the government, said the State would appeal against the order in the Supreme Court.

The Bench said the Act “is a law relating to acquisition,” a subject mentioned on the Concurrent List of the Constitution. It held that some sections of the Act were in conflict with the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

On the question whether the Act fulfilled a public purpose as required in the case of an acquisition by the state, the Bench said: “…the Act cannot be treated as [one] for public purpose when the intention is to return the land to the unwilling landowners/farmers.”

“…The Singur Land Rehabilitation & Development Act, 2011 is held to be unconstitutional and void, since it is without having assent from the President of India,” it said.

In its 253-page judgment, the Bench said the Act only provided for “refund of the money that was paid by the vendors,” which amounted to “no compensation.”

While Mr. Justice Mukerji, in his September 28 order, termed the provisions for compensation in the Act “vague and uncertain” and ruled that the relevant sections of the Land Acquisition Act be incorporated into it, the Division Bench said: “The said part of the order is not sustainable in the eyes of law.”

“…the court has no jurisdiction to insert, in the guise of interpretation of statute, or rewrite or recast or reframe the same as held by the Supreme Court,” the Bench said.

Justice Mukerji “has no power to insert or recast or rewrite the statute by inserting Sections 23 and 24 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.”

However, the court granted a two-month stay on the order. The government “should not part with the possession of the land” during this period and might go in appeal.

Tatas to study Singur order

The House of Tatas on Friday refrained from giving out any reaction on the Singur verdict saying that they will have to study the order first.

When contacted in Mumbai, a Tata Sons spokesman said : “ We will first have to study the order in detail before we can given out any reaction.”

The Tatas had moved Court last year after the state government initiated measures to vest the Singur land, after enacting the Law and had also begun distributing forms for returning land to unwilling farmers ( although there did not seem to be too many takers) .

Returning land to these farmers was among the first executive decisions taken by the Mamata Banerjee government on its first day in office “ We plan to give back 400 acres, the Tatas are can set up their plant on the rest 600”, Ms Banerjee had announced, scoffing at queries whether the government will invite them to do so. “ They will invite themselves” she had quipped.

However, since the new Trinamool Congress government ascended power, not only the Tatas but very few industry houses have submitted concrete investment proposals, mainly due to the government’s hands-off policy on land acquisition.

“ The damage has been long done” said an official of a leading Chamber of Commerce after hearing today’s verdict, adding that beyond proving that the state government’s stand on Singur was unreasonable, the verdict does not help one way or the other. “ Industry does not have confidence in a government that cannot put forward logical and consistent policies.” he said.

Official of another chamber of commerce felt that now was the time to ``wait and watch.”

Another Chamber of Commerce said that while it was difficult to take sides as both the farmers and the Tatas had suffered losses in the process, it was important to await the apex court verdict.

“We feel that the issue should go to the Supreme Court for imparting a sense of fairness to land - owners and also to get a far sighted and fair view for the long term interest of economic and social development of the country,” the Chamber said.