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Singur Act held unconstitutional by Calcutta HC

Kolkata: In a big blow to the Mamata Banerjee government, the Calcutta High Court today held as unconstitutional and void an Act by which West Bengal had vested land leased to Tata Motors for its small car project in Singur.

A division bench comprising justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Mrinal Kanti Chaudhury, giving its verdict on an appeal by Tata Motors Ltd observed that President`s assent had not been taken for the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 and as such it was void and unconstitutional.

The court also observed that what was done in Singur was acquisition of land by the said Act and as such it was void. The implementation of the order was, however, stayed for two months by the division bench to allow the aggrieved party to appeal to the Supreme Court. The division bench set aside the order of Justice I P Mukerji who had held the Act to be constitutional. Counsel for the West Bengal government Kalyan Bandyopadhyay, who is also a Trinamool Congress MP, said the state would appeal against the order in the Supreme Court.

The Chief Minister wrote on her Facebook page shortly afterwards, "I have no comments to offer on Singur Verdict. "Throughout my life, I have struggled for the cause of the farmers, working class, poor and under-privileged. Our commitment to be with them will remain, whether I am in power or not. I will continue to fight for this cause. Finally, the people`s choice in democracy will prevail," Banerjee wrote.

Earlier, Banerjee told reporters in the assembly premises, "Unwilling farmers in Singur will get back their land. The state government is committed to it.We are with them and we will continue to be with them. They will emerge victorious at the end". In Mumbai, a Tata Motors Spokesperson said it welcomed the court verdict.

The single bench had in its order observed that the Singur Act did not specify compensation to Tata Motors for vesting the land leased to it.It had directed incorporation of provisions in sections 23 and 27 of Land Acquisition Act 1894 to provide for compensation.

Justices Ghosh and Chaudhury observed that the court had no jurisdiction to fill up loopholes left by the Legislature. Tata Motors had appealed against the order of Justice Mukerji, which was passed on September 28, last year. Tata Motors had been leased 997 acre at Singur in Hooghly district, about 40 km from here, by the previous Left Front government for its Nano project.

The company had moved its Nano small car factory to Sanand in Gujarat in 2008 citing law and order problems, but had kept possession of the leased land at Singur. After coming to power in May 2011, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had the Singur Act passed in the Assembly as one of her government`s first major legislations.

Commerce and Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee said, "We have not received the copy of the court verdict. The state government will take action only after getting it." Recalling that the Trinamool Congress chief had observed a 26-day fast in Singur to protect the interests of farmers, Chatterjee told reporters, "We were with them, we are with them and we will be with them. We are committed to protect their interest."

Leader of the Opposition and CPI(M) leader Surya Kanta Mishra said the high court verdict had vindicated the party`s stand. "We have been saying that the bill was unconstitutional and we had offered to give several suggestions to the government on how to go about it," he told reporters.

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