Kolkata : On the first day of a legal battle over the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011 at the Calcutta high court, Tata Motors Ltd couldn’t secure an interim protection of its rights and assets as the day-long hearing ended with the court not passing any order at all.
On Wednesday, Tata Motors moved the court seeking an injunction on the Bill, which enabled the state government to cancel the 2007 land lease agreement between the carmaker and the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation—an arm of the state government—and seize the abandoned Singur factory.
Even its prayer that the district magistrate of Hooghly be made the custodian of its assets at Singur for a day was turned down after lawyers for the state government vehemently protested and assured justice Soumitra Pal that the factory was being guarded by the police.
Television channels, however, showed through the day people trespassing at will into Tata Motors’ factory and making away with whatever they could lay their hands on. After taking control of the factory on Tuesday night, the district administration on Wednesday ousted the carmaker’s security guards.
“I have received no complaint so far,” said Sripriya Rangarajan, the district magistrate of Hooghly.
The hearing of the petition will continue tomorrow as the battle intensifies with more people joining the legal challenge to the controversial Bill.
Lawyer and former mayor of Kolkata Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said in court on Wednesday that he represented those erstwhile landowners who had accepted compensation from the state government for the land acquired from them and that they wanted to join Tata Motors in opposing the Bill.
The Bill says land is to be returned from the reclaimed Singur plot only to those people who did not receive compensation on protest. The Bill names some 2,800 erstwhile landowners as entitled to receive such compensation.
Claiming that possession of the abandoned small-car factory should immediately be restored to Tata Motors, its lawyer Samaraditya Pal said the carmaker was a “victim of lawlessness” created by the Trinamool Congress party, which now controls the state government. It is the same party that has now promulgated this law, he added.
In October 2008, Tata Motors announced its decision to pull the plug on the Singur factory, where the Nano car was to be manufactured, in view of violent protests against land acquisition led by the Trinamool Congress, then the state’s principal opposition party.
Pal said the “midnight expedition” to seize the factory without giving Tata Motors any prior notice was “shameful”, and prayed for the appointment of a special officer to take possession of the company’s assets at Singur, if its possession couldn’t immediately be restored to the firm.
Citing a letter written to the state government in June 2010, Pal disclosed that Tata Motors was at that point willing to “consider alternative investments” at Singur if the administration could put an end to the lawlessness.
But no such assurance was ever received from the state government.
At the same time, the company had offered to give up its Singur factory if compensated for the sunk cost, Pal said, but the state government didn’t respond to that proposal either. This forced Tata Motors to continue to spend on maintenance and protection of the factory, he added.
Tata Motors said in a statement last week that its sunk cost was Rs 440 crore and that of its component makers was Rs 171 crore.
The Bill says that though Tata Motors is to be compensated, its component makers will not receive anything except refunds of the premiums they had paid at the time of the land allotment.
A section of these component makers could on Thursday make a formal application to the Calcutta high court seeking to join the legal battle launched by Tata Motors, according to lawyers who did not want to be identified.