Tata Motors Ltd may have unveiled its “people’s car”, but a Kolkata court will today rule on the fate of the company’s work-in-progress plant at Singur where the Tata Nano is to be produced.
A two-judge bench of Calcutta high court is scheduled to pass its judgement on public interest litigations filed by some city-based organizations such as the Lawyer’s Right Watch and Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights on the acquisition of agricultural land in Singur by the West Bengal government for the factory.
The factory, about 35km from the city, is coming up off national highway 2 in Hooghly district. The state government had, in December 2006, fenced off almost 1,000 acres of agricultural land despite vehement protests by villagers and some politicians, resulting in violent clashes between the police guarding the walled-in site and a section of villagers.
The site for the Tata Motors plant in Singur
The bench had, in November 2007, wrapped up hearings. While the petitioners’ counsel, former chief minister of the state Siddhartha Shankar Roy, cited the Supreme Court’s ruling on acquisition of agricultural land and argued that the state government could not acquire any land without the farmers’ consent, the state advocate-general, Balai Ray, argued that the West Bengal Industries Development Corp. (WBIDC) had, on behalf of the government, acquired the land in public interest and hence, the apex court’s ruling could not be held against it.
WBIDC has, in the past, justified its acquisition of land on the grounds that it is imperative for the development of the state. It has also said the PILs are politically-motivated and are not for the benefit of the masses. Its contention has been that the site for the Tata Nano factory was selected according to the state’s industrial policy and cannot be challenged in court.
One of the parties to the PIL contends that by the state’s own admission before the high court, the area of land voluntarily handed over is barely 287 acres. However, the government insists that under the Land Acquisition Act 1894, it need not obtain consent of landowners to acquire land.
While spokespersons for WBIDC and Tata Motors declined comment on the issue, the state advocate general was not available for comment.