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Supreme Court stays Calcutta High Court judgement on Singur Act

September 17th, 2012 1 comment

According to news reports, the Supreme Court stayed a Calcutta High Court judgement on the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011 [Singur Act] on August 24, 2012. The apex court also issued a notice to Tata Motors seeking its response within four weeks, on the West Bengal government’s petition challenging the High Court order.

In 2008, the Left Front government acquired land in Singur under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, for Tata Motors to build a Nano car factory.  In its first year of coming to power in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) led government notified the Singur Act through which it sought to reclaim this land to return a portion of it to farmers.

On June 22, 2012, a Division bench of the Calcutta High Court struck down the Singur Act terming it unconstitutional and void.  In its judgment, the Court found some sections of the Singur Act to be in conflict with the central Land Acquisition Act, 1894.  As land acquisition is a Concurrent List subject under the Constitution, both Parliament and state legislatures have the power to make laws on it.  However, if provisions in the state law conflict with provisions in the central law, then the state law cannot prevail unless it receives Presidential assent.  The Calcutta High Court held the Singur Act to be unconstitutional because: (a) it was in conflict with the central Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and (b) Presidential assent was not obtained for the Act to prevail in West Bengal.

The central Act mentions that for the government to acquire land, it has to demonstrate: (1) that land is being acquired for a public purpose,[i] and (2) that the government will provide compensation to persons from whom land is being acquired.  Provisions in the Singur Act that relate to public purpose and compensation were found to be in conflict with the corresponding provisions in the central Act.  The Court was of the opinion that transfer of land to the farmers does not constitute ‘public purpose’ as defined in the central Act.  As argued by the Tata Motors’ counsel, return of land to unwilling owners is a ‘private purpose’ or in ‘particular interest of individuals’ rather than in the ‘general interest of the community’.  Second, clauses pertaining to compensation to Tata Motors for their investment in the Nano project were found to be vague.  The Singur Act only provides for the refund of the amount paid by Tata Motors and the vendors to the state government for leasing the land.  It does not provide for the payment of any other amount of money for acquiring the Tata Motors’ land nor the principles for the determination of such an amount.  The High Court ordered that these provisions tantamount to ‘no compensation’ and struck down the related provisions.

The matter will come up for consideration in the Supreme Court next on October 15, 2012.


[i] According to Section 3 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, acquisition of land for ‘public purpose’ includes, among others: provision or planned development of village sites; provision of land for town or rural planning; the provision of land for planned development of land from public funds in pursuance of a scheme or policy of the Government; and the provision of land for a corporation owned or controlled by the State.

 

Allegations against Justice Soumitra Sen: Inquiry Committee Report

December 10th, 2010 2 comments

On December 1, 2010, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha.  The Bill revamps the present system of inquiry into complaints against judges.  The case of Justice Sen was the one of the more recent instances where the integrity of judges has been called into question.

A motion was moved by 58 members of the Rajya Sabha for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, (a Judge of the Calcutta High Court) on grounds of misappropriation of funds. The Chairman, Rajya Sabha constituted an Inquiry Committee on March 20, 2009 to look into the matter. The Committee comprising Hon’ble Justice B. Sudershan Reddy (Chairman), Hon’ble Justice T.S.Thakur and Shri Fali S. Nariman submitted its report on September 10, 2010.

Charges framed in the Motion

The two charges which led to an investigation into alleged misconduct of Justice Soumitra Sen were:

  • Misappropriation of large sums of money, which he had received in his capacity as Receiver appointed by the High Court of Calcutta; and
  • Misrepresentation of facts with regard to the misappropriation of money before the High Court of Calcutta

General observations of the Committee on the case:

  • Justice Sen’s assertion that he had the right to remain silent during the investigations was fallacious.
  • He did not cooperate with the Court proceedings; was not present for hearings, did not furnish information requested by the Court and did not provide any evidence in his defence.

Facts and Findings of the investigation by the Committee:

a. During the period he was an Advocate:

  • Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. A Receiver appointed by the High Court has the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods.
  • As required by the High Court, the Receiver should file and submit for passing,     his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court. However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule both as an Advocate and a Judge.
  • The High Court requires the Receiver to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission. However, the Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank.
  • A total sum of Rs 33,22,800 was transferred in these accounts from the sale of proceeds of the goods which was not accounted for either when Justice Sen was an Advocate or when he was made a High Court Judge.
  • Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Committee found this claim to be false as well.
  • The Committee concluded that this was a case of misappropriation of funds as both of the Receiver’s bank accounts were closed with a nil balance without any investments being made on behalf of the High Court.

b. During the period he was a Judge:

  • Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The committee noted that Justice Sen’s actions were, “an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver’s funds”.
  • After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds.

Conclusion

Based on the findings on the two charges the Inquiry Committee was of the opinion that Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court is guilty of “misbehaviour”.