Return Singur land to farmers, Supreme Court orders West Bengal government

In a reality check to State acquisition of agricultural land under emergency clause for industrial projects of private companies, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the CPI (M)-led West Bengal government's acquisition of 997 acres of agricultural land for industry captain Tata Motors' Nano "small car" plant in Singur. The 204-page judgment, which is a political victory for the Mamata Banerjee government, said though it is "completely understandable" for the government to acquire land to set up industrial units, the "brunt of development" should not be borne by the "weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural workers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty State government." A Bench of Justices V. Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra agreed for different reasons, in their separate judgments, to quash the acquisition process of the land and return it to thousands of short-changed landowners, farmers and cultivators, who have been fighting a prolonged legal battle for over 10 years. The judgment questions the former CPI(M) government's acquisition of the land over the objections raised by farmers and even proceeding to install equipment and factory machinery while the cultivators' challenge to the acquisition was still pending in the courts. The acquisition had seen widespread protests in the State, compelling the Tatas to shift base to Gujarat in 2008. The issue led to an electoral victory for the Mamata Banerjee government, which went on to enact the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act in 2011 to re-claim the land from the Tatas. "In the instant case, what makes the acquisition proceedings perverse is not the fact that the lands were needed for setting up an automobile industry, which would help to generate employment as well as promote socio-economic development in the State, but that the proper procedure as laid down in the Land Acquisition Act was not followed by the State government," Justice V. Gopala Gowda observed.