Calcutta, Oct. 17: Calcutta High Court today scrapped an amendment enacted by the Mamata Banerjee government to prune the tenure of co-operative society boards from five to three years.
The reduced tenure would have meant that around 4,000 (80 per cent) such boards now controlled by the Left would have had to seek a fresh mandate earlier than scheduled — a challenging task for the Opposition after the Trinamul wave last year.
Around 2,500 of the 5,000 boards in the state have already completed three years — the limit set by the new law, the West Bengal Co-operative Societies (Amendment) Act, 2011, that was passed in February this year.
Justice Biswanath Somadder termed the amendment “invalid, unconstitutional and ultra vires”, deciding on a petition moved by the boards of some co-operative banks.
The Singur law to reclaim land was also dubbed unconstitutional by a division bench of the high court but the issue is now pending in the Supreme Court.
The previous Left Front government had repealed the West Bengal Co-operative Act of 1983 in January 2011 and brought in the West Bengal Co-operative Societies Act, 2010, in accordance with the provisions of a model act enacted by the Centre in 2006.
As proposed by the Centre, the tenure of the elected boards was extended from three to five years.
When the Mamata government restored the three-year tenure, the CPM had described it as “politically motivated”.
Officials at Writers’ Buildings said Bengal houses around 5,000 co-operative societies, covering farmers, fishermen, agriculture credit and banks. According to the officials, around 4,000 are now run by members of the Left parties.
“The new government wanted to replace the existing boards at the earliest as it felt they could pose a barrier to new development projects,” an official said. “If the amended act was not scrapped, 2,500 societies that have already completed three years would have had to elect new boards now.”
Appearing for the petitioner, advocate Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who was mayor when the Left ran the Calcutta corporation, said the Centre had enacted the Co-operative Societies Act in 2006 by repealing the Co-operative Societies Act after taking the President’s assent.
“In the mother act, the tenure of the co-operative societies boards is five years,” Bhattacharya said. “This mother act is based on the provisions laid down in the Constitution of India…. The amendment was done with a political motive.”
Government pleader Ashok Banerjee said the new government had carried out the amendment “for the betterment of the society as well as the common people”.
Justice Somadder, however, said: “According to the court, the West Bengal Co-operative Societies’ (Amendment) Act, 2011, is invalid, unconstitutional and ultra vires.”
Bengal co-operative minister H.A. Safwi said that once the court order was received, “we will decide our future course of action”.
Another minister said: “The amendment was not aimed at taking any revenge. If the boards have done well in the past three years, they should happily face the elections.”