Kolkata, Aug. 31: In a major political victory and vindication for Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that the 1,000 acres of farm land in Singur be returned to farmers.
This was the land that the previous CPI(M) government of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had in 2006 allotted to Tata Motors to set up a plant to manufacture its Nano cars and the controversy over which propelled Mamata to the chief minister's office, toppling the Left in its bastion after more than 30 years, and brought the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi onto the national stage as the 'development' messiah.
The court termed the agreement with Tata Motors "bad in law" and ordered that the land be returned to farmers within 12 weeks.
The land was acquired in 2006 by the CPI(M) government. But following massive protests, which were led by Mamata and her Trinamool Congress, Tata Motors was forced to abandon the Singur project and move the Nano factory out of Bengal to Gujarat.
The Supreme Court observed that land cannot be acquired at the instance of a private company. In what amounts to extreme embarrassment for the Left parties, especially the CPI(M), the court said that the exercise of government power at the instance of a private company is a "colourable exercise and amounts to fraud".
Due procedures were not followed with the farmers and the land was acquired in an illegal manner, the court observed and went on to call the entire exercise a farce and a shocking eyewash.
The court also observed that the Left government appeared to be determined that the Tata project must come up in the state at any cost, and it was the company which seemed to have chosen the precise location for the project.
This issue had come up before the Calcutta High Court and the acquisition had been approved. However, a rights group moved the Supreme Court against the order of the high court.