New Delhi: In a reality check for State takeovers of agricultural land for industrial projects of private companies, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the CPI (M)-led West Bengal government’s acquisition of 997 acres of agricultural land for Tata Motors’ Nano car plant in Singur.
The court directed the State to return possession of the acquired land to the farmers within the next 12 weeks. It further held that the farmers can retain the compensation paid to them by the State as they were “deprived” of 10 years’ income from the land.
The 204-page judgment, which serves as a political victory for the Mamata Banerjee government, said that though it is “completely understandable” for the government to acquire land to set up industrial units, the “brunt of development” should not be borne by the “weakest sections of society …, who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty State government”.
Long legal battle
A Bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra agreed for different reasons, in separate judgments, to quash the acquisition process and return the land to thousands of landowners, farmers and cultivators, who have been fighting a legal battle in the courts for over 10 years.
“The acquisition of land of the landowners/cultivators in the instant case is declared as illegal and void… Restore the ownership of the lands to cultivators,” the Bench pronounced in a common order.
The judgment came down hard on the former CPM government for “bull-dozing” over the objections raised by farmers and installation of factory machinery while the cultivators’ challenge of the acquisition was still pending in the courts.
The acquisition led to widespread protests, compelling the Tatas to shift base to Gujarat in 2008.
The land acquisition and unrest led to an electoral victory for Banerjee’s TMC, which went on to enact the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act in 2011 to re-claim the land.
The apex court was hearing petitions filed by farmers questioning the manner in which over 1,000 acres of land was allotted by the CPM government to Tata Motors in 2006.
Credits The Hindu Business Line