Last year, the West Bengal legislature enacted the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 with a view to return land to the owners from whom it was previously acquired for purpose of establishing a manufacturing plant for Tata Motors. Since the project was stalled and subsequently relocated to another state, the issue pertains to the manner in which the land is to be dealt with.
The constitutional validity of the Singur Land Act was challenged by Tata Motors. Although it was upheld by a single judge of the Calcutta High court, it was found to be unconstitutional on appeal by a division bench, which pronounced its judgment last week.
The judgment, dated 22 June 2012, can be accessed through JUDIS – Tata Motors & Anr. v. The State of West Bengal & Ors. (Coram: Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose & Justice Mrinal Kanti Chaudhuri).
While the primary issue relates to constitutional validity and legislative competence (essentially the repugnancy of the Singur Land Act with the central legislation being the Land Acquisition Act), it brings to the fore various legal (as well as political) issues involved in land acquisition for industrial development. The following are key extracts from the judgment of the division bench:
After analyzing the arguments and decisions cited on behalf of the State and the parties we come to the conclusion and hold that both the Acts i.e. L.A. Act and present Singur Act come within the same field i.e. within the Entry 42 of List III.
Applying the tests laid down by the Court the question is now whether the law enacted by the State Government i.e. Singur Land Rehabilitation & Development Act, 2011 and the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 can go together and whether the impugned Act is repugnant to Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
It appears to us that applying all these tests we have come to the conclusion that Singur Act speaks about acquisition. We have also compared the Act with that of the Land Acquisition Act and it appears to us that the Act has failed to come over the test laid down by the Supreme Court in several decisions. It appears to us that there is clear and direct inconsistency between the Land Acquisition Act and the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, and, in our considered opinion, such inconsistency is absolutely irreconcilable.
It further appears to us that the inconsistency is such between the provisions of the two Acts that it would be direct collision with each other and it is impossible to obey the one without disobeying the other. …
In these circumstances, we have to hold that the Singur Land Rehabilitation & Development Act, 2011 is held to be unconstitutional and void since it is without having assent from the President of India.