Supreme Court questions Tata on Singur land acquired for Nano plant

Court directs Tata Motors to make clear its stand on its rights over the land after it chose to shift plant site to Gujarat

By Anupam Chakravartty
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Returning 400 acres of land to the 'unwilling' farmers of Singur was Mamata Banerjee's electoral promise. The Singur and Nandigram land agitations helped her dislodge 34 years of left rule in Bengal

The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned Tata Motor's stand on the land acquired by West Bengal government for its small-car (Nano) manufacturing facility in Singur in Hooghly district, 40 km from the state capital, Kolkata. The court posed the question while hearing West Bengal government’s special leave petition against the Kolkata High Court order of June 22, 2012, which struck down the state’s Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act of 2011.

The high court had termed the Act unconstitutional. The Act was meant to enable the Trinamool Congress-led state government to return the land leased to Tata Motors to farmers.

Tata Motors never built the proposed factory and moved its plant to Sanand in Gujarat, even as 997.11 acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) of fertile agricultural land stands acquired in West Bengal.

While hearing the appeal, Supreme Court judges H L Dattu and Dipak Mishra directed Tata Motors to make clear its stand on its rights over the land given changed circumstances. “The land was acquired for establishing a car manufacturing plant at Singur. Now the purpose is no more there as you have already moved out. Now you cannot say that you still have the interests in the land in question,” the judges said.

The court further said that the land should returned to the farmers. The apex court may further ask the West Bengal government to file an affidavit on the issue of compensation to Tata Motors, which the company had paid at the time of land acquisition, said lawyers engaged in the case. Tata Motors had invested around Rs 1,500 crore on the plant; the land was given to Tatas on a 90 year lease.

On June 14, 2011, the West Bengal Government, headed by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee passed the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011 in a bid to fulfill its poll promise. When the movement against the Left-ruled government which acquired the land on behalf of Tata Motors in Singur picked up in 2007, Trinamool Congress staged protests in the region, which also ensured a landslide victory for Banerjee in the state elections of 2011.

By passing the Bill, West Bengal sought “to provide for taking over of the land covered by the lease to Tata Motors Limited for the sole purpose of small-car manufacturing project”. The Bill also sought to return 400 acres to about 2,200 farmers who were unwilling to give their land to the project, while the rest could be utilised in public interest and for the benefit of the state. These farmers refused to collect any compensation from the government against the acquired land.

However, Tata Motors challenged the Bill, terming it as unconstitutional. On June 22 last year, the Calcutta High Court struck down the controversial Bill, which was enacted without calling for the president's assent.

The next hearing of the case is scheduled for August 6. 


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