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Victory for Tatas as High Court bench says Singur Act is ‘unconstitutional’

Kolkata, June 22 (PTI): The Calcutta High Court on Friday held as unconstitutional and void the Singur Land Rehabilitation & Development Act of 2011 under which the Trinamool Congress-led state government had sought to take back land leased to Tata Motors by an earlier government.

Giving its verdict on an appeal by Tata Motors against a single judge’s order, a division bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Mrinal Kanti Chaudhury observed that the President's assent had not been taken for the Act and as such it was void and unconstitutional.

The implementation of the order was, however, stayed for two months by the division bench to allow the aggrieved party to appeal before a higher court.

The division bench set aside the order of Justice I P Mukerji, who had held the Act to be constitutional. It observed that the single bench had no jurisdiction to fill up loopholes left by the legislature.

The court also observed that what was done in Singur was acquisition of land by the said Act and as such it was void.

In his order, passed on September 28 last year, Justice Mukerji had held the Singur Land Rehabilitation & Development Act 2011 to be constitutional. But the court had ordered an unconditional stay of the judgement till November 2 to allow any aggrieved party to file an appeal, if it so desired.

Tata Motors had been leased 997 acres at Singur, about 40km from Calcutta, in Hooghly district, by the previous government, which was of the Left Front, for its Nano car project, billed as the cheapest car.

At that time, the Trinamool Congress, as the main opposition party in West Bengal, had demanded the return of 400 acres to farmers unwilling to give land for the project. Tata Motors had moved its Nano small car factory to Sanand in Gujarat in 2008 citing law and order problems, but had kept possession of the leased land at Singur.

After coming to power in May 2011, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had the Singur Act passed in the Assembly as one of her government's first pieces of major legislation.

The counsel for the state government, Kalyan Bandyopadhyay, who is also a Trinamool Congress member of Parliament, said that the state would appeal against the order in the Supreme Court.

But Partha Chatterjee, the state’s commerce and industry minister, said the government would decide its next course of action only after getting a copy of the verdict.

“We have not received the copy of the court verdict. The state government will take action only after getting it,” Chatterjee told reporters here.

Chatterjee also assured the people, farmers and land labourers in Singur that they were with them and would continue to stand beside them.

“We were with them, we are with them and we will be with them. We are committed to protect their interest,” he said, recalling that Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee (then in the Opposition) had observed a 26-day fast in Singur to protect the interests of farmers.