Tata Motors on Wednesday got “interim protection” from the Supreme Court, which stopped the West Bengal government from returning to farmers the land acquired for the automobile firm's small car project in Singur.
“Our interim protection is for some time,” the court said noting that the main matter against the government on possession and distribution of the land to the original owners was pending before the Calcutta High Court.
“As an interim order, we direct government not to hand over or return land to the farmers concerned until further orders passed by the High Court,” a vacation Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and A.K. Patnaik said.
The judges said they were asking the High Court to proceed with the main matter in which the Tatas had challenged the law enacted by the government for taking possession of land and distributing it to farmers who were the original owners.
Hours after the order, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the apex court did not stop land survey and the “process of distribution of land.”
A report from Singur said since the order was yet to reach the authorities, survey and ground levelling work continued with over 150 farmers submitting forms for reclaiming their holdings.
The Bench said it was granting interim protection as senior counsel P.P. Rao, appearing for the government, made it clear that possession of the land would remain in the hands of the government till the High Court decided on the issue.
The apex court was hearing a petition filed by Tata Motors that challenged the order of the High Court, which refused to grant any relief to it. On June 23, the High Court refused to entertain the company's plea, seeking directions to restrain the government from taking possession of about 1000 acre land. At the outset, the Bench told senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Tata Motors, that there was a limited issue before it as the company had not asked it to go into the legislation relating to the land in Singur, an issue before the High Court. “We are not underestimating the matter,” it said.
The Bench made the remarks after Mr. Rohatgi said Tatas have to rush to the apex court as an extraordinary situation had arisen after the government came out with legislation on the night of June 21 to take possession of around 1000 acres and for its distribution among farmers.
He alleged that not only due to the protest and agitation by the Trinamool Congress on the issue of land the small car project was forced out of the State but small vendors who had established their units were facing the brunt of the government.
Mr. Rohatgi contended that the land acquisition and handing it over to Tata Motors on lease for 99 years was not a clandestine exercise as the High Court had upheld the acquisition by the previous government, and as such it cannot be returned to farmers.
When the Bench asked about the present state of affairs, he said Tata Motors was being dispossessed of the land and sought an order that it should remain with the government till the issue pending in the High Court was decided.