Supreme Court strikes down Singur land acquisition as colourable exercise of power [Read judgment]

Vasudha Misra

The Supreme Court of India has set aside the Calcutta High Court decision which upheld the land acquisition in Singur for Tata Motors’ Nano plant. The apex court’s V Gopala Gowda and Arun Mishra JJ. observed that that the land was acquired through “colourable exercise of power”.

The judgment was delivered in a series of appeals against a 2008 decision of the Calcutta High Court upholding the acquisition of land for Tata Motors in Singur, West Bengal.

Today, the Apex Court stated that the acquisition of land by then ruling CPM government was not a ‘public purpose acquisition’, and that the entire exercise was done without “application of mind”.

While the judges concurred on the issues of quashing the acquisition process, and of compensation to the landowners, each had their own reason for arriving at the finding. While Justice Gowda maintained that the land was not acquired for public purpose directly by the Tata Motors, Justice Mishra differed by holding that there was no illegality in the land acquisition of land for public purpose as it would have given employment to thousands of people in West Bengal.

Regarding the compensation to be granted, the Court opined that a proper enquiry needed to be done before the compensation could be paid, and that the payment of a composite amount was bad in law.

In fact, this was one of few points of agreement between the two judges; both took the view that the enquiry process which led to the notification for acquisition was not properly held. Justice Gowda, reading his judgment, said that notice was not issued to the landowners and their objections not properly considered.

It also held that even though the land was to be returned, the compensation already paid would not be recovered from the farmers who had lost their livelihood for a period of ten years. Accordingly, it directed that the land is to be returned to the farmers after ascertaining ownership through a survey. A time limit of twelve weeks has been allotted for this exercise.

The matter has naturally seen a number of big names, including the likes of Prashant Bhushan, Colin Gonsalves, Fali Nariman, and KK Venugopal.

Read the judgment below.

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