The Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 has been declared as “unconstitutional’’ and “void’’ by the Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court.

Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court today turned down a previous judgment and declared the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act 2011 “unconstitutional and void”.

The court has granted a two-month stay on the order to allow appeal against the judgment. A Tata Motors spokesperson said the company was “studying the order.”

Ms Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal Government dispossessed Tata Motors and its vendors from the abandoned Nano project site by invoking the Singur Act. The move was part of Ms Banerjee’s electoral promise to return the Singur land to ‘unwilling’ farmers.

In conflict with LA Act

Setting aside a previous judgment of the Calcutta High Court upholding the Singur Act, a Division Bench of Mr Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Mr Justice Mrinal Kanti Chaudhuri on Friday said the Singur Act was “relating to acquisition” and required Presidential assent.

Presidential assent

According to the Court, at least four sections (transfer and vesting of land, obtaining possession of the land payment of compensation and transfer of land to unwilling farmers and its future utilisation) of the Singur Act were in conflict with the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and therefore repugnant.

“The Singur Act must come under Entry 42 of List 3 (which deals with the Concurrent powers of legislation) of the Indian Constitution,” the court said.

“We have come to hold that the Singur Act is held to be unconstitutional and void without the assent of the President of India,” the judgment concluded.

Interestingly, the earlier verdict by Mr Justice I. P. Mukerji (on September 28, 2011) also described the West Bengal Government’s action (to disposses Tata) “as acquisition of land leased out to Tata Motors” and not a “takeover”, as referred in the Singur Act.

However, Mr Justice Mukerji noticed “some vagueness with regard to payment of compensation” and sought to “rectify” the same by applying Sections 23 and 24 of the Land Acquisition Act.

The Division Bench felt: “The court has no power to insert or recast or rewrite the statute by inserting sections of the LA Act”.

Therefore, the previous order was not sustainable.

Vendors compensation

The court felt that Section 5(1) of the Singur Act only speaks about the refund of the money that was paid by the vendors “and, such refunds tantamount to no compensation” accordingly, the section “should be struck down”.

In her statement through Facebook, Ms Banerjee said: “I have no comments to offer on the Singur verdict” and, vowed to continue her fight for the under-privileged.

“I will continue to fight for this cause. Finally, people’s choice in a democracy will prevail,” she added.

Trinamool MP and lawyer, Mr Kalyan Bandopadhyay said: “We will go to the Supreme Court.”

Lost opportunity

Former State Industry Minister and CPI(M) Polit Buro member, Mr Nirupam Sen, said: “We always said that acquired land cannot be returned. We were willing to talk on compensation to ensure that the factory comes up.

“However, we failed to convince the agitators. The fiasco has harmed the State’s prospect to attract investment.”

(This article was published on June 22, 2012)
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