Calcutta, Sept. 13: Calcutta High Court today struck down as “unconstitutional” the act passed by the state government slashing the tenure of co-operative societies to three years from five years.
“The West Bengal State Co-operative Societies (amendment and validation) Act, 2013, is a classic example of how the state legislature chose to enact a law that takes away an accrued constitutional right (from the elected co-operative societies),” Justice Biswanath Somadder said.
The government had introduced the West Bengal State Co-operative Societies (amendment and validation) Act, 2013, by promulgating an ordinance after the same judge had in October last year set aside the West Bengal State Co-operative Societies (amendment) Act.
Both acts seek to reduce the tenure of co-operative societies by two years and had faced legal challenge from a section of co-operative societies that had two more years to complete their five-year term.
Justice Somadder said today that as the Centre had in 2006 amended the Constitution to increase the tenure of elected co-operative bodies from three years to five years, the state act was in “conflict” with it.
The erstwhile Left Front government had then increased the tenure of the boards through an act.
“With the constitutional amendment, the co-operative societies are now constitutional bodies and they cannot be dissolved by any state legislation before their tenure ends,” a legal expert said.
Besides acting as banks in rural areas, the co-operative societies market products ranging from milk and fish to saris and handicraft items, and provide technical knowhow to members.
The state has around 6,000 such societies, which are run by elected representatives. The Left parties have control over the majority of the societies, which had their last elections in 2009 and 2010.
“As the new government wanted to control the societies, it brought the act and then the ordinance-cum-act to reduce their tenures,” the chairman of a co-operative society said.
After promulgating the ordinance, the government had got special officers to run the boards of the societies that had completed three years.
Now that the court has termed the act unconstitutional and refused a stay on the order for two weeks, the members whose five-year term has not yet ended can stake claim to run the boards from tomorrow.
“The only option we have is moving a division bench for a review,” an official said.