First decade of 21st century was the time when Indian economy was blooming with high GDP growth rates and emerged as economic power at the global platform. Indian Middle Class was the biggest gainer from the escalating economy.
A stalwart in India’s Automobile Industry – “TATA Motors” had sensed the dire need of burgeoning middle class and came up with an innovative idea of presenting a car which could be afforded by them. “The people’s car,” they said when Ratan Tata unveiled TATA Nano at 2008 Auto Expo at a base price of Rs. 1 Lakh leaving people awestruck.
However, the story of Nano didn’t go well and consequentially it could never be sold at its proclaimed price, all credit to the land acquisition controversy in Singur causing transition of TATA Motor’s car manufacturing plant from Singur to Sanad, a total distance of 2000 kilometres approx., costing more than Rs. 300 crores to the TATAs.
The Left Front government registered its 7th consecutive victory in 2006 Elections consolidating their position in West Bengal under the leadership of Buddhdeb Bhattacharya.
West Bengal Government entered into a discussion with TATA Motors Ltd. in pursuance of their policy of establishing Automobile Industries to curb unemployment among the youths. TATA Motors proposed their land and infrastructural need for setting “small car project” in a letter dated 19th January to the Principal Secretary of Commerce and Industries department.
24th January 2006
Principal Secretary (C&I) wrote to Principal Secretaries of Land and Land Reforms and Finance Department attaching the proposal of TATA Motors seeking their view on the same.
8th and 17th March 2006
The representatives of TATA Motors held meetings with representatives of West Bengal government and West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (hereinafter WBIDC) twice in Kolkata and Mumbai.
TATA Motors assessed that the Small Car Project would pour in direct investment of 650 Crores and indirect investment of 200 Crores by the vendors.
Tata motors enumerated their final requirement of land which was-
- 400 Acres for the Plant
- 200 Acres for the vendor’s factories supplying parts to the plant and
- 100 Acres for the township to be developed near the plant
TATA motors was also offered an incentive by the State Government; the excerpts of the package are
- 600 Acres of land for lease of 30 years at annual rental of 10 lakhs which can be renewed for block of 30 years at the option of TATA Motors,
- Construction of factory and allied amenities and lease it at annual rent of 90 lakhs
- Developing a township of 2000 dwellings
23rd March 2006
The Principal Secretary (Commerce and Industries) communicated the Deputy General Manager of TATA Motors (Government and Collaboration Affairs) approval of the proposal.
5th May 2006
Representatives of Tata motors visited the site in Singur and confirmed it to be the ideal for the small car project.
Protest begins by blocking way of TATA team which went to survey the fields on 25th May 2006.
30th May 2006
Principal Secretary (C&I) wrote cabinet memo in which WBIDC proposed the acquisition of 1053 acres of land within six Mouzas of Singur namely Bajemelia, Beraberi, Gopalnagar, Khaserberi and Singherberi district Hooghly for TATAs small car project and same was approved.
Following which Mamta Banerjee opposed the setting up of car plant apprehending the displacement of poor farmers from their fertile land.
21st July 2006
The Notification for Land Acquisition under section 4(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was published in Calcutta Gazette.
29th August 2006
Land Acquisition Collector (hereinafter Collector) submits the enquiry report conducted by him under section 5A of the Act dismissing the objections.
30th August 2006
On perusal of the report submitted by Collector, the State Government issued, under section 6, declaration for acquisition of land.
After award of compensation, WBIDC started taking possession of land amidst heavy resistance by the people. 78 activists were arrested including Mamta Banerjee and MLA of Singur. People accused government and police of brutal action.
Upcoming months saw a series of state-wide Bandhs and Hunger strikes against the acquisition supported by different classes of society including Academicians, Human Rights Activists, Trade Unions, Students and Social Activists.
On 4th December Mamata Banerjee started indefinite hunger strike in Esplanade, Kolkata against the fencing of disputed land, the same was called off after 26 days.
WBIDC asked the TATA motors to take the permissive possession of the land pending the finalisation of lease deed and its terms and conditions, same was later executed on 15th March 2007.
TATA Motors starts construction of manufacturing plant for Nano in Singur, amidst heavy opposition of land owners.
Prohibitory Order under section 144 of CrPC imposed in Singur again. Calcutta High Court quashed the same order in the area calling it an abuse of executive power.
18th January 2008
Calcutta High Court dismissed the writ petition filed challenging the acquisition of land in Singur and upholds the acquisition of land for Public Purpose. Subsequently, farmers and NGOs filed special leave petition in Supreme Court challenging the judgement.
Mamta Banerjee staged indefinite strike in front of the TATA small car plant and gives ultimatum to the government.
Talks between Government and Trinamool Congress mediated by the then Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi failed.
3th October 2008
Ratan Tata officially declares pull-out from West Bengal, said cannot run a plant under police security. 4 days later he announced new location at Sanand, Gujarat.
10th November 2008
TATA starts relocation procedure, removes machineries and equipment from the allocated land.
How The Acquisition Of Lands Took Place In Singur?
Before 2014, Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was used for acquiring private land of individuals by government which became inoperative after coming into force of new Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-Settlement Act, 2013.
Acquisition of Land in Singur was hit by the old Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which conferred power on the appropriate government to acquire private land for serving “Public Purpose”.
Term “Appropriate Government” under section 3 (ee) of the Act includes Central Government and State Government.
What exactly is Public Purpose?
Power of eminent domain confers legal capacity on the state to take property of individuals to serve the greater “Public Purpose”. Public purpose defined under Section 3 (f) includes-
- provision of land for town planning or rural planning,
- provision of village sites,
- provision of land for planned development from public funds under policy or schemes of government and subsequent disposal in whole or in part for securing further development
- provision of land for state-owned or controlled corporation
- provision of land for residential purpose to the poor or landless
- provision of land for carrying out education, housing, health or slum clearance scheme sponsored by government/authority established by government/by local authority with prior permission of the appropriate government
- provision of land for any other scheme of development sponsored by government
but the definition does include acquisition of land for companies.
Procedure followed for acquisition of land for Public Purpose (Part II of the Act)
Section 4 of the said Act provides that if a land is likely to be needed by the government for public purpose a notification to that effect shall be published in the official gazette and in two daily newspapers circulating in the area and collector of area should cause the public notice of the notification.
After the publication of notification, the officer of the government can enter upon the land notified to conduct investigation.
Section 5A (2) provides an opportunity to raise objection by the person interested in the land within 30 days of publishing the said notification. Every objection made must be in writing and the person shall be given opportunity of being heard by the Collector. Thereafter, the Collector shall conduct an inquiry and a report regarding the same is submitted to the appropriate government.
Declaration by Government
When the government is satisfied, after considering the said report, that a particular land is needed for a Company or for a public purpose, a declaration regarding the same is published in the Official Gazette and in two daily newspapers, by the government.
The declaration is conclusive and the appropriate government may proceed acquisition of the land in the manner provided further.
Public Notice to take possession
Under section 9, a public notice is served by collector to the occupiers of land and the interested person communicating the intention of the government to take possession of the land and for inviting their claims of compensation and objection in measurements of land. The claims, if any, shall be heard after expiry of 15 days following the date on which notice is published.
Enquiry and Award of compensation
In pursuance of the claims, if any, the collector enquires into-
- the objections to the measurements of land
- value of land at the time of publication of notification under section 4(1)
- the respective interests of the person claiming compensation
and awards compensation after completion of enquiry. No compensation shall be granted by the Collector unless the Government approves the same. The said compensation shall be given within two years failing which the proceedings will lapse.
Section 16 provides that subsequent to the award of compensation, the land vests in the government, free from any encumbrances and the Government may take possession of the land.
In case of emergency, the Government has right to acquire the land, after expiry of 15 days, following the date on which notice is issued, without granting any award to the occupier of land and the interested person. Such land vests absolutely with the government, free from any encumbrances.
Acquisition of land for a private company (Part VII of the Act)
Procedure followed for acquisition of land for a company is covered under the Part VII of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Section 39 lays down two conditions required for acquisition of land for company-
- that there is previous consent of the appropriate government followed by a previous enquiry under section 40 and,
- that the agreement between the company and government has been executed under section 41
According to Section 41 after receiving a report from the collector, the appropriate government may enter into an agreement with the Company.
Section 44B of the Act states that when a land is to be acquired for a private company the only purpose for which acquisition can be made is for erection of dwelling-houses for workmen of the company or to provide amenities connected thereto.
In the instant case acquisition of land by West Bengal Government and WBIDC in Singur for TATA Motors’ small car project was done in compliance with Part II of the Act which was contented in High Court and after dismissal later in the Supreme Court.
After apparently endless protests and strong opposition, the TATAs left West Bengal for good to their new destiny Gujarat. The efforts of Mamata Banerjee yielded and her party Trinamool Congress conceded a thumping victory in 2011 West Bengal Legislative Assembly election winning 227 seats out of 294 seats ending the 34 years rule of Left Front.
Singur Act, 2011
West Bengal’s newly formed government passed the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 aimed to take over the land which was granted by lease to TATA Motors.
TATA Motors challenged the validity of Act before Calcutta High Court by way of Writ Petition. Single Judge upheld the validity of the Act, but TATA appealed against the decision and it was heard by a Division Bench. The Division Bench found sections 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the Singur Act in conflict with Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and further held the Act void and unconstitutional.
In KedarNath Yadav v State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court after hearing the special leave petition, quashed the acquisition proceedings in Singur and granted relief to the land owners. The common judgement of the Calcutta High Court dated 18th January 2008 which upheld the acquisition was set aside by the apex court.
The petition was heard by a Division Bench presided by Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice Arun Mishra. Their Lordships had different opinions as to answering the points formulated specially the public purpose. Nevertheless, both the judges concurred in declaring the acquisition illegal and void. Further, their lordships ordered that the land to be returned within 12 weeks to the owners. The land owners were allowed to retain the compensation awarded as a relief for the deprival from enjoyment of land for 10 long years.
 Civil Appeal No. 8438 of 2016, arising out of SLP(C) no. 8463 of 2008