The Supreme Court of India delivered an epoch-making judgment on August 31, 2016 in the case of land acquisition at Singur and other villages in West Bengal. The Kedar Nath Yadav Vs State of West Bengal & Ors case involved Tata Motors Ltd. The apex court
Singur case is a milestone in SC land acquisition judgments.
The Singur case judgment of the Supreme Court clearly lays down that land cannot be acquired for a private company unless “public purpose” is specifically declared. Even funds for acquisition should come from the public exchequer. In the Singur case, the land was notified for the Tata Motors Ltd company for its small car project which itself could not be termed “public purpose”. The apex court said that it should be clearly spelt out that the project will be for socio-economic development, to generate employment and give fillip to the local economy. Secondly, the Court held that in cases of land acquisition, notices should be served to land owners individually which couldn’t be established in the Singur case from the official records. However, it was not clear how a notice can be served to a person who is repeatedly refusing to get notice or the persons collectively who are obstructing to receive notices for land acquisition. Thirdly, the apex court clearly reiterated like in many previous judgments that proper opportunity of hearing should be provided by the Collector to the objectors of land acquisition. It will be more appropriate if the decisions on the disposing of objections are publicly published so that people may know why their objections were rejected by the Collector.
The Supreme Court further commented that the Tata Motors could not start operations as per the terms of the lease and farmers are entitled to take back their land and retain the compensation as they have been deprived of cultivation for the last 10 years. This includes the time taken in litigation at various stages.
The Tata Motors has also failed in concretizing the minimum land required for its plant generating employment for about 4,700 persons. Initially, the company wanted 700 acres of land and landed up taking 1,000 acres of land. As per the new Land Acquisition Act, 2013, the acquisition can be done for the minimum land required only. Thus, about Rs 611 crore went down the drain.
The Supreme Court’s judgment will have a far-reaching impact on the implementation of the new land acquisition proposals with the Government. Now onwards land acquisition officers and decision-makers will have to be doubly cautious while implement-
ing the provisions of the new Land Acquisition Act, 2013. They can no longer take shelter under the sovereign functions and the power of “eminent domain” for violations of due procedures under the Act. Secondly, the land for private entities will be acquired only in exceptional cases because they cannot provide compensation money from public funds. Additionally, they will have to provide for proper resettlement and rehabilitation packages before taking over the land. Thirdly, the projects having a commercial angle will also have to go through the process of social impact assessment. Fourthly, efforts will have to be made by the requiring bodies to avoid/minimize multi-cropped area or intensively cultivated land. The same provisions are also contained in the new Act.
Thus the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Singur land acquisition case establishes that justice should not only be done, it should be seen to have been done. Justice should reach the deserving and deprived persons. The routine compliance with the provisions of law will not be adequate. It will be struck down by the ever vigilant apex court. It was, therefore, high time the administrative machinery in the land acquisition setup was geared up to face future challenges in land acquisition matters. ■
(Dr PK Agrawal retired as Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal. He was associated with land acquisition matters for 11 years and was also posted as Commissioner General in the Land Reforms Department of the West Bengal Government.)
A file photo of the closed Tata Motors car factory in Singur