In what appears to be a tactic to buy time, the West Bengal government has sought to file additional documents in the Singur land case. This is in a sharp contrast to the haste the Mamata Banerjee-led government had shown when taking back the land within a month of coming to power.
After the state government said in the apex court that it wanted to file some documents last Friday, the new date for hearing the case has been pushed to July. The move has raised questions on the government’s intent, especially since Banerjee has said publicly she was in favour of an early resolution.
Moreover, it also comes days after the state government hinted at a possible amicable settlement to the deadlock with the “change in management” after Cyrus Mistry took over from Ratan Tata as chairman of the Tata group.
The Supreme Court’s decision to postpone the hearing till July invited no objection from the state’s counsel, officials close to the development said.
The West Bengal government had moved the Supreme Court in August 2012 against the Calcutta High Court order that struck down the Singur Land Act, which allowed the state government to reclaim the entire land given to Tata Motors and its vendors for the Nano project. Responding to a query on whether the state was buying time for a possible out-of-court settlement with the Tatas in the matter, Kalyan Banerjee, a Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP and one of the legal counsels representing the state government in the court, said, “The Supreme Court on its own gave the July date for hearing. So far as the possibility of an out-of-court settlement is concerned, I cannot comment. I am not party to administrative decisions.”
The possibility of an out-of-court settlement stemmed from the pressure on the party leadership in Singur for return of land. The chorus in Singur is getting louder with the unwilling farmers losing patience over the delay in return of land and demanding an early settlement.
Senior leaders, such as state Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee, have gone public asking the government to look for an out-of-court-settlement with Tata Motors on the land issue.
- June 15, 2011 West Bengal assembly passes the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill, 2011, enabling the state government to seize the entire 997-acre plot in Singur leased out to Tata Motors and its vendors.
- June 22, 2011 Tata Motors moves Calcutta High Court, challenging the legality of the Singur land return Act.
- September 28, 2011 Single-bench Calcutta High Court (Justice I P Mukerji) upholds the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011
- October 29, 2011 Tata Motors challenges the order of the Calcutta High Court
- June 22, 2012 The Divison Bench of the Calcutta High Court strikes down the Bill
- August 6, 2012 The West Bengal government moves the Supreme Court, challenging the Calcutta High Court order striking down the Singur Land Act
- August 24, 2012 Supreme Court seeks response of Tata Motors on a special leave petition filed by the West Bengal government, challenging the rejection of the Singur Land Acquisition Act by the Calcutta High Court. A bench of H L Dattu and C K Prasad says the Calcutta High Court's interim order would continue
- January 4, 2013 The Supreme Court postpones hearing until July 2013
Industry minister Partha Chatterjee had earlier made a point by disclosing the government was inviting Cyrus Mistry for its annual industrial meet, Bengal Leads, scheduled January 15-17 at Haldia. This is the first time that the state government will be inviting the Tata chairman for a state-sponsored event.
“There is nothing wrong if we talk to Tata. We are not against the company,” Chatterjee said.
Asked whether the government had initiated the process to hold talks with the Tatas, he said, “There is a new chairman. I am sure he will go through the files concerned. Give (us) some time, you will see what happens.”
According to political observers, irrespective of an out-of-court settlement, it suited the state government to slow the legal process, given the Panchayati elections are due for April-May. A verdict in favour of Tata Motors would result in a major backlash in Singur. The TMC leadership is anyway anticipating some reversals in Singur in the Panchayat, sources said.
It is another matter that even if the hearing started on the scheduled date, the main matter was a long way off.
First, a Tata Motors plea for responding to the state government’s challenge will be heard.