A Madras High Court division bench, comprising of justices TS Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan, on December 14, 2018, reserved its orders after conclusion of arguments, on petitions that challenged the land acquisition for the Salem-Chennai highway project. The Rs 10,000-crore, 277.3-km-long eight-lane Salem-Chennai expressway, which aims to cut the travel time between the two cities by half to about two hours and 15 minutes, has been facing opposition from a section of locals, including farmers, over fears of losing their land, besides environmentalists who are opposed to felling of trees for the project.
Earlier, the project director of the National Highways Authority of India’s project implementation unit, Kancheepuram, filed a counter, contending that the question of dispossession did not arise, if the notification under Section 3D of the National Highway Act was not issued. Section 3D provides for declaration of acquisition of land by the central government for purposes as enumerated under Section 3A(1) of the National Highways Act, 1956. The director further said in compliance with the court’s September 4, 2018, order, the authorities had so far, not published the 3D notification.
On December 3, 2018, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had issued a fresh set of notifications, to initiate land acquisition in Salem, Dharmapuri, Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram district, for the project. The court had, on December 4, 2018, directed assistant solicitor general G Karthikeyan, to file an affidavit, explaining the effect and impact of the new notification to acquire 1,125 acres of land.
The counter, on December 14, 2018, said an aerial drone precision survey was carried out for the entire corridor, after publication of the gazette notification on various dates from May 10, 2018 to June 21, 2018. After completion of the survey, the alignment was frozen and boundary stones were fixed. After publication of the notifications, there were minor changes in alignments, which led to benefits for the public, the counter claimed.
In fact, the required area of the lands had come down and also avoided demolition of several houses in various villages, it said. The counter said that the alignment, which earlier passed through the Theethamalai reserve forest, had been changed and now, would be formed on the outskirts of the forest. The bench then reserved its orders on the petitions.
Later, on December 15, 2018, Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami, said that the land acquisition proceedings for the Salem-Chennai expressway project was not opposed by as many as 89 per cent of the people. “The idea is not to cause inconvenience to anyone. It is the duty of the government to fulfill the needs of the people. Many people desire the scheme, while some are against it. On the whole, 89 per cent of people did not oppose land acquisition proceedings for the project and it was only 11 per cent who opposed,” he said.
Chennai-Salem highway project: HC directs police to refrain from indiscriminate arrest of protesters
The Madras HC has asked the police in Tamil Nadu, to avoid ‘indiscriminate arrest and detention of people, for expressing their democratic views’ against the Chennai-Salem highway project
September 27, 2018: The Madras High Court, on September 26, 2018, said that the police should refrain from indiscriminate arrest and detention of people participating in peaceful protests, against the Chennai-Salem greenfield highway project.
A bench, comprising justices TS Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan, made the observation, while hearing a batch of petitions, challenging land acquisition for the Rs 10,000-crore project.
Earlier, the counsel for some of the petitioners, submitted that they were taken into custody for staging protests and released later.
“In our considered view, if there is a peaceful protest, the state police should refrain from taking the extreme step of arrest and detention of the persons, some of whom would be the land losers, if the project is implemented,” the bench said in an interim order. There might be cases where, under the guise of protest, a body may intervene to cause certain other disturbances but the police were expected to know the difference between a genuine protester and a trouble maker, it said. “Indiscriminate arrest and detention of people, for expressing their democratic views, should be avoided,” it added.
The bench reminded about its earlier interim orders of September 14 and 20, in which it had observed that the state government or its machinery, should not take any precipitative action. “No form of precipitative action should be initiated against persons, who want to express their views in peaceful and democratic manner, more particularly the land owners who are entitled to express their views against the acquisition proceedings,” it said. The court had, on August 21, 2018, restrained the centre and the Tamil Nadu government, from dispossessing people of their lands to be acquired for the project, which has run into opposition from some quarters, including a section of farmers, till further orders.