Though Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has declared the Supreme Court verdict on Singur a victory for her bloody agitation that saw the Tatas finally exit the state, the story in court could have been quite different had the group not felt frustrated enough to move to Gujarat. In the two-judge bench, Justice V Gopala Gowda was of the view that the state’s—under the Left-front government—decision to procure land under Part II of the land acquisition Act was flawed as that for a private firm can only be done under Part VII which is more onerous. He also ruled that the process of dealing with the objections raised was flawed as it did not adequately address the issues raised. Justice Arun Mishra, on the other hand, was of the view that today’s realities were different and a lot more public purpose work was being achieved through private firms—if the government declared a small car project as serving the public purpose due to the investment it brought, then so be it—so even a Part II acquisition process was kosher.
Justice Mishra cited several court rulings in this context and quoted the Tenth Report of the Law Commission as saying, “in an ever-changing world, the connotation of the expression ‘public purpose’ must necessarily change … the mere fact that the immediate use is to benefit a particular individual would not prevent the purpose from being a public one, if in the result it is conducive to the welfare of the community”. Justice Mishra too felt the process of dealing with the objections to the land acquisition was arbitrary and while this would normally have been sent back to the land acquisition authority to relook the case, since the Tatas had left the state, the judge used his powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to give ‘complete justice’ to those who sold the land. Eventually, then, it was the Tatas leaving that won Banerjee the case—had they not, the judgment would probably have been a split one. While Banerjee is now trying to woo industry to the state, it would be interesting to see if she does this using parts II or VII. What is worrying for the Tatas is that the case was split into two parts by the SC – one on the land acquisition matter and the other on the Singur ordinance that took the land back without compensation to the Tatas. While the second case is theoretically still alive, now that the court has declared the acquisition illegal, it now looks moot.