Karela Fry

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Tata and West Bengal at the Supreme Court

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The West Bengal government claims that land acquired for the Tatas by the previous government was in violation of the right to private property. The Tatas claim that the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, which aims to give the land back to farmers who were unwilling to sell it in the first place, also infringes on their rights. There is a case pending in the Kolkata High Court. In the meanwhile, the Supreme Court heard two special leave petitions and passed orders, according to IE:

“As an interim order, we direct the state government not to hand over or return land to farmers concerned until further order passed by the Calcutta High Court,” a vacation Bench comprising justices P Sathasivam an A K Patnaik said.

Terming the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 as a “colourable exercise of legislation”, the Tatas had moved the Supreme Court Tuesday, seeking an interim stay on the distribution of land to so-called “unwilling farmers” in Singur.

Tatas filed the appeals against the orders of the High Court which rejected its plea to restrain the state government from taking back possession and distribution of land to farmers.

Tata Motors had filed separate petitions challenging two Calcutta High Court orders dated June 23 and June 27.

On June 23, the High Court had refused to entertain the company’s plea seeking directions to restrain the state government from taking possession of the 1,000 acres.

The company also filed another plea in the High Court on June 27, unsuccessfully challenging the Act.

In its appeal, the Tatas said the law had been enacted in haste, and was in “complete violation of basic principles in our Constitution”. A vacation Bench of Justices P Sathasivam and A K Patnaik agreed to take up the matter for a detailed hearing on Wednesday.

Under the new law, the Mamata Banerjee government has taken back 400 acres of land with Tata Motors in Singur, and intends to return it to their original owners.

The Tatas pleaded that the repossession of the land, carried out using police force, is “illegal”, and there has been “vandalism” and “looting” at the erstwhile Nano factory site. Counsel for Tatas submitted that the company was seeking a direction to restrain the state government from creating any third-party interest on the disputed land.

On a day the Tata Motors approached the Supreme Court seeking an interim stay on the return of land to farmers in Singur, the district administration of Hooghly was completing the formalities for giving possession of land to the first batch of “unwilling farmers” in Singur on Wednesday.

The land documents of at least 12 farmers were scrutinised and found to be authentic and they were to be handed over their land by the administration on Wednesday. The land for these 12 farmers has already been identified by government surveyors.

Meanwhile, replying to the Tata Motors petition challenging the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, the state government on Tuesday told the Calcutta High Court said it had not done any wrong by introducing the new Act. The government said it was not against the Tatas but in favour of farmers. Tata Motors counsel Samaraditya Pal had raised the point that there was a conflict between the new Act and the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Countering the argument, government counsel Ashoke Banerjee said the TMC had declared in its election manifesto that land would be returned to unwilling farmers and after coming to power, the party is acting on its promise.

It is precisely this conflict between the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and the fundamental right to property which is at the core of much of political unrest in the last few years. This is associated with the larger issue of “development for whom”: do the dispossessed farmers have less right to development than the eventual millions who will own Nanos? This, in turn, is part of the old question of how to balance the rights of powerful organizations against those of people.

In conflicts of interest between a state and an individual, this is called civil rights. We do not yet have a name for the increasing number of cases of conflict of interest between corporations and individuals. To the extent that individuals elect the government to represent them, such cases should not arise. However, in a soft state like ours, they do. Economic rights? Livelihood rights? What could be a catchy but correct name?


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  1. […] and industry has been strongly opposed in the recent past by landholding farmers. Agitation in Bengal and UP grabbed headlines: especially since irrigated land, suitable for crops was preferentially […]

  2. […] opposition to land acquisitions by landholding farmers in the preceding years. Agitation in Bengal and UP grabbed headlines: especially since irrigated land, suitable for crops was preferentially […]

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