New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) In a set back to the Tatas, the Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the land acquired by the previous Left Front government in West Bengal for the Nano car plant, saying due processes and procedures were not followed.
The land was acquired in 2006 for the car project, which was vehemently protested by the Trinamool Congress — currently in power in the state with Mamata Banerjee as Chief Minister. Eventually, the project was shifted to Sanand in Gujarat.
Saying that the eight-point formulated by the bench in dealing with the appeals have been answered by separate opinions, the order by the bench of Justice V. Gopal Gowda and Justice Arun Mishra said: “However, we concur on the question of quashing the impugned acquisition proceedings and reliefs to be granted to the land owners/cultivators.”
While allowing the appeals, the court set aside the January 18, 2008 judgement of the Calcutta High Court.
The order said that the compensation that has already been paid to the land owners/cultivators “shall not be recovered by the state government as they have been deprived of the occupation and enjoyment of their lands for the last ten years”.
It further said: “The landowners/cultivators who have not withdrawn the compensation are permitted to withdraw the same which is in deposit either with the Land Acquisition Collector or the Court.”
Directing that restoration of the possession of land to the landowners/cultivators within 12 weeks from the date of receipt of the copy of the judgment and order, the court directed West Bengal Survey Settlement Department to conduct a survey and identify respective portions of land which needs to be restored to the respective landowners/cultivators.
The court gave Survey Settlement Department 10 weeks’ time to comply with the direction.
Holding that the acquisition of land for the Tata Motors which was guised as one for public purpose, Justice Gowda said, “The acquisition of land in the instant case in favour of the Company is thus, improper for not following the mandatory procedure prescribed under Part… Act and Rules and therefore the acquisition proceedings are liable to be quashed.
“…by no stretch of imagination can such an acquisition of lands be held to be one for ‘public purpose’ and not for a company. If the acquisition of lands in the instant case does not amount to one for the company, I do not know what would,” Justice Gowda said in his judgement.
However, Justice Mishra said that the “acquisition of land for establishing such an industry would ultimately benefit the people..” and “When Government wants to attract the investment, create job opportunities and aims at the development of the State and secondary development, job opportunities, such acquisition is permissible for public purpose”.
Referring to the earlier judgement of the top court which said that public purpose includes a purpose in which the greatest interest is of community as opposed to particular interest of an individual, Justice Mishra said that “The project in hand would have definitely served the public purpose and public purpose should be liberally construed, not whittled down by logomachy.”
Saying that law “must constantly be on the move adapting itself to the fast-changing society and not lag behind”, Justice Mishra said, “If the law fails to respond to needs of 133 changing society, then either it will stifle the growth of the society and choke its progress or if the society is vigorous enough, it will cast away the law which stands in the way of its growth.”
Both Justice Gowda and Justice Mishra agreed that the enquiry process leading to notification for acquisition was flawed.
Justice Gowda said that no individual notices were served on the land owners for acquiring their lands and were not given adequate opportunity to establish their claim for determination of reasonable compensation based on true and correct market value of the lands.
Having said this, Justice Gowda said that the collectors report was not a “valid report in the eyes of law” and the “State Government mechanically accepted the same without application of mind independently before issuing notification.”
Describing the acquisition proceedings as “perverse”, Justice Gowda says, “The acquisition of land for and at the instance of the company was sought to be disguised as acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ in order to circumvent compliance with the mandatory provisions of Part VII of the L.A. Act.”
Holding that the entire acquisition was “vitiated in the facts and circumstances of the case”, Justice Mishra said, “The inquiry held under section 5A is a farce and an eyewash neither the Collector nor State Government considered the matter with objectivity as mandated. Inquiry has not been done with open mind with requisite fairness they were clearly influenced by decision of cabinet.”