Kolkata: The Calcutta high court said there was nothing wrong in the controversial acquisition of land by the state government for a Tata Motors Ltd plant to build the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano.
The court on Friday ruled that the state government had not done anything illegal in acquiring 997 acres of farmland in Singur, 35km from here, in Hooghly district, to set up the Tata Motors factory.
“It’s a very positive development and we’re very happy,” said West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) vice-chairman and commerce and industries secretary Sabyasachi Sen. “This (court order) will definitely strengthen the industrial drive in the state and also help all-round development of Singur and adjoining areas,” the state’s commerce and industry minister, Nirupam Sen, said.
A Tata Motors official would not comment on the court decision, saying it was up to the state government.
But the company “is moving along on target” for Tata Nano, to roll off production lines in the second half of the financial year to March 2009, said the official, who wished to remain unnamed.
A division bench of the court comprising Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and justice P.C. Ghosh observed that there had been no “colourable exercise of power” by the state government in taking over the land. The bench dismissed all 11 public interest litigations filed against the state government and its industrialization unit, WBIDC, ending months of speculation over the fate of the project—West Bengal’s most public symbol of industrialization—expected to be set up at a cost of Rs1,000 crore by Tata Motors, India’s largest truck maker. The Tata Nano, which will retail for about $2,500 (about Rs1 lakh), has set a global benchmark in low-cost carmaking.
Though protests and demonstrations had started soon after the state government announced the project in late 2006, they gathered steam after the land was fenced off in December.
However, the litigation started in February 2007 when one Joydeep Mukherjee petitioned that the land had been acquired in contravention of the procedures laid down in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and the Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules, 1963. Mukherjee was, subsequently, joined by 10 individuals and organizations. They cited a Supreme Court (SC) ruling against acquisition of farmland without farmers’ consent. The state had contended that the land was acquired in public interest and such rules should not apply.
Emboldened by Friday’s verdict, West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said those who had not yet taken compensation for land acquired should accept it now. Some of the farmers whose land was acquired by the state had refused an earlier round of compensation to mark their unwillingness to lose land.
Alternative livelihood for those who have lost their land would also be explored, Bhattacharjee said. The high court order would help in upgrading the living standards of the people of Singur and its adjoining areas, he added.
Still, it may not be the end of the road for litigation over the project. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee made it clear that her party would appeal the order in SC. The Trinamul Congress was at the forefront of protests against the setting up of the factory.
Former West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, counsel for one of the petitioners, also said he would appeal against the order in SC.
PTI and AFP contributed to this story.