Public purpose tag on Singur - Nano plant zips past legal hurdle

Read more below

By OUR LEGAL REPORTER in Calcutta
  • Published 19.01.08
  •  

Calcutta, Jan. 18: Calcutta High Court today ruled that the Singur land acquisition “was made for the public purpose of employment generation and socio-economic development of the area”.

The verdict handed a morale-booster to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s industrialisation drive and lifted the last vestiges of a cloud on the Tata small-car plant that will make the world’s cheapest car, the Nano.

The ruling also appeared to have taken the wind out of the sails of the Trinamul Congress’s campaign against the project. Mamata Banerjee said the Supreme Court would be moved but the local Trinamul MLA claimed the party would now focus on a “door-to-door” campaign, possibly signalling a shift from the occasional assaults on the factory walls.

The high court rejected the three main grounds on which 11 petitions — all were clubbed by the court — had challenged the acquisition of 997 acres in Singur for the Tata plant. All the petitions were dismissed today.

Besides turning down the petitioners’ contention that the acquisition was not for public purpose, the court threw out a claim that the government did not follow the legal procedure to buy land.

The third ground — that the government went beyond its jurisdiction — was also overruled.

“We hold that there was no colourable exercise of power by the state government while acquiring land at Singur,” the division bench of Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Ghosh said in the 217-page judgment.

“The term ‘colourable exercise of power’ means going beyond one’s jurisdiction. In this case, the judges meant that the government did not abuse its administrative power while acquiring the land,” said Subrata Mukhopadhyay, a high court lawyer.

Chief minister Bhattacharjee said he was “happy”. “The verdict will strengthen the state government’s drive for industrialisation in the greater interest of the people,” Bhattacharjee said. “I appeal to all who have not yet collected their compensation cheques to come forward and take them.”

Industries minister Nirupam Sen used the opportunity to hold out an olive branch to the sceptics.

“I request all political parties to come forward and co-operate. The government is sympathetic towards landlosers and is trying to find alternative livelihood for them,” Sen said.

CPM veteran Jyoti Basu “thanked” the high court. “Those who are opposed to development had filed the case. But the ruling will accelerate the pace of industrialisation.”

Elaborating on the ruling, Justice Pinaki Ghosh said: “We have gone through the submissions that were made by both the petitioners and the respondents (the state and the WBIDC) and found that the process adopted by the government during acquisition of land was just and in accordance with law.”

The petitioners had alleged that the government did not follow provisions of Part II and Part VII and Section 3 of the Land Acquisition Act of 1898. Part II deals with procedures to be followed while issuing notification, paying compensation and demarcating land.

Part VII states that the government cannot acquire land for a private company if the purpose is not in public interest. Section 3 focuses on development of an area and job generation.

The court has ruled that the state abided by all these provisions, advocate-general Balai Ray said after the judgment. “It has also approved the policy of generating employment by setting up industries,” he added.

The bench, however, said private petitioners who moved court for higher compensation could “approach the land acquisition collectorate”.

The court did not go into the government’s contention that the petitioners had no locus standi as it had allowed them to make submissions. The bench gave only the gist of the verdict, saying “details may be disclosed after carefully going through the judgment”.