The Mamata Banerjee government, which came to power on a key promise of returning land to Singur farmers, received a jolt on Friday when the Calcutta high court declared its Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, as illegal and unconstitutional.
Already at a disadvantage at the Centre over its stance in the presidential polls, the court’s ruling puts the Trianmool Congress government in a soup with voters in West Bengal. Returning 400 acres of Singur land to farmers unwilling to part with it was the first priority of the government, which passed the Act on June 13, 2011 -- exactly a month after the assembly poll results were declared.
On September 28, after a challenge by Tata Motors, a single judge bench of the Calcutta high court upheld the validity of the Act.
But in their Friday’s judgment, Justices Pinkai Chandra Ghose and MK Chaudhury ruled that the Act violated the Constitution on three counts.
First, it did not have Presidential assent. Second, returning land to the original owners did not constitute public interest, and hence the land could not be vested by the government. And third, the Act did not have any provision for compensation to Tata Motors for the losses they suffered.
“The high court has upheld the Constitution. Land acquisition is in the concurrent list. We have said the Singur bill is unconstitutional,” said CPM legislator and leader of the opposition Suryakanta Mishra.
“I will not comment on the judgement. The government is with the people,” Banerjee said. Later, she put forward similar comments on Facebook.
The government plans to move Supreme Court, said Trinamool MP and advocate Kalyan Banerjee, who had represented it in the legal battle. Tata Motors plans to file a caveat in the apex court on Monday.
But the timing of the verdict is worrying the party, since the panchayat polls are close at hand.
“The Park Street rape case and the cartoon controversy were urban issues,” said a senior party MP. “But Mamata Banerjee won the assembly polls as a messiah of the farmers and promising the return of Singur land, which is now a distant dream.”