The Madras High Court on Monday quashed the land acquisition proceedings for the Rs 10,000-crore Chennai-Salem expressway project that hit the headlines following strong resentment by the farmers, political parties and NGOs.
A division bench of justice TS Sivagnanam and justice V Bhavani Subbaroyan cancelled the land acquisition announcement for the project, acting on a bunch of writ petitions that challenged the notification issued under the provisions of the National Highways Act, 1956, proposing to acquire lands for the eight-lane highway. The project is part of the ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’, a project conceived by the central government.
The bench said that the NHAI’s projection about the benefits of the proposed highway appears to be illusory. The financial consequences were not analysed by the consultant. The state government had in last May issued a notification and started acquiring lands for the project, evoking strong protests by the farmers. Pattalai Makkal Katchi (PMK), now aligned with BJP and AIADMK for Lok Sabha polls, and others had filed cases in the high court against the road project.
The proposed 277.30-km highway had seen protests by farmers, environmental activists and political parties who had slammed the government for not consulting the people whose agricultural lands and livelihoods had been at stake. The public interest litigation, challenging the acquisition, contended that in the absence of an environmental clearance, forest clearance and final approval by the NHAI, the project is in violation of Articles 14, 19 & 21 of the Constitution of India. It was submitted that the proposed highway is still in the planning stages, the detailed project report including the environmental impact assessment is yet to be prepared.
The notification issued under Section 3A(1) of the Act is not only arbitrary, but pre-mature.
The pettitioners said that the landowners will be deprived of their fertile agricultural lands, and their livelihood would be affected. It was submitted that there is a hidden agenda for the proposed project owing to rich iron ore deposits in Kanjamalai hills, bauxite deposits in Kalvarayon hills and platinum deposits in the hills of Namakkal district, which would be exploited by corporate entities.
The petitioners further stated that there are more than 2 lakh MTs of rich deposits of iron, bauxite, platinum in Salem, Namakkal and Tiruvannamalai districts.