A division bench of the Madras High Court, comprising justices TS Sivagnanam and V Bhavani Subbaroyan, on August 21, 2018, passed an interim order on a batch of petitions opposing the Rs 10,000-crore, proposed eight-lane greenfield highway project between Salem and Chennai and posted them to September 11, 2018, for further hearing. “The respondents are directed not to dispossess the respective land owners from the land in question, which they propose to acquire, until further orders in these writ petitions,” the order stated.
The bench, which went through pamphlets issued by the Kancheepuram District Collector, in support of the project, noted that while various benefits of the highway had been highlighted, there was ‘absolutely no whisper about’ the assurance given to land owners that they will not be forcibly dispossessed of their lands. The project, which aims to halve the travel time between the two cities, is facing opposition from some quarters, including a section of farmers, whose lands are proposed to be acquired.
The court said, “We deem it appropriate that we clarify the aspect, which has been placed before us by the learned advocate general, so that it will allay all the fears of the land owners and the challenge to the land acquisition proceedings in whatever manner done, could be heard and decided on merits and in accordance with law.” This was done considering the fact and the sensitivity of the matter and the category of persons, from whom the lands were proposed to be acquired, it said.
Earlier, former union minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss, who is one of the petitioners, said farmers and people feel that the project was made to look attractive on the surface-reading of the benefits claimed by the central and state governments. He claimed that implementation of the project, was bound to affect the livelihood of thousands of farmers. It is feared they are likely to be thrown out of their land, leaving them in a lurch and rendering them landless, homeless and making them labourers for life, the counsel for Ramadoss submitted.
The state advocate general Vijay Narayan, submitted that the project was still in the early stages and there was no imminent threat of dispossession for the land owners. Additional solicitor general G Rajagopalan, opposed one of the petitions seeking to declare as unconstitutional Section 105 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the IV Schedule to the Act, as well as the entire land acquisition proceedings initiated under the National Highways Act, for the project. He questioned the locus-standi of the petitioner, on the ground that he was not a land owner. The petitioner, ‘Poovulagin Nanbargal’ (friends of earth), an NGO, has contended that the section and the schedule were discriminatory.