Salem-Chennai Expressway project is of national importance: NHAI informs SC

[] In an appeal against the Madras HC’s quashing of the land acquisition process for the Salem-Chennai Expressway, the NHAI has told the Supreme Court that the project is of ‘national importance’

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) told the Supreme Court, on August 22, 2019 that the Rs 10,000-crore Salem-Chennai eight-lane green corridor road project, is of ‘national importance’ and that the Madras High Court had erred, in quashing the land acquisition process. The NHAI told a bench headed by justice NV Ramana that the high court had held that environmental clearance (EC) was mandatory for the project. “The reasons given by the high court (in the judgement) are factually incorrect,” solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the NHAI, told the bench which also comprised justices MM Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi.

“If we have to take environmental clearance first and then go for land acquisition, then, it will be like putting the cart before the horse,” Mehta told the bench. He said there was no dispute on the fact that EC was required before the commencement of construction work for the project.

One of the advocates, appearing for the farmers who had moved the high court challenging land acquisition proceedings, told the bench that initially the project was for connecting Chennai and Madurai but later it was changed to Salem-Chennai. The bench told Mehta that he should give a flow chart, referring to the legal questions, as well as the factual matrix of the case.

“Two points will be important. One is environmental clearance and other is the change of route from Chennai-Madurai to Chennai-Salem,” the bench observed. “The high court has also given a finding that this (Chennai-Salem project) is not a part of the Bharatmala project. You have to answer this also,” the bench told Mehta. The bench posted the matter for hearing on September 4, 2019. At the end of the hearing, Mehta told the court that ‘This is a project of national importance.’

Chennai-Salem Expressway: SC refuses to stay Madras HC’s quashing of land acquisition

In a setback for the centre, the SC has turned down its plea, which sought the quashing of the stay on the land acquisition process for the Salem-Chennai Expressway but issued notices to the parties concerned

June 4, 2019: The Supreme Court, on June 3, 2019, refused to stay the Madras High Court order, which quashed the land acquisition process for the Rs 10,000-crore Salem-Chennai eight-lane green corridor project. A vacation bench comprising justices Indu Malhotra and MR Shah, however, issued notices to the parties including the Tamil Nadu government, on the appeal of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), an autonomous agency of the central government, which has challenged the high court order.

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“We are going to issue notices on the special leave petition (SLP). We are not going to stay the high court’s order,” it said, while declining the plea of the Project Implementation Unit of NHAI that the high court’s order be stayed. The NHAI had moved the top court on May 31, 2019 and the bench had then agreed to hear the appeal. The high court had held that the environmental clearance was mandatory for the sensitive project.

Chennai-Salem Expressway: DMK chief Stalin asks centre to drop plea against quashing of land acquisition

DMK president MK Stalin has condemned the central government for challenging a Madras High Court order, which quashed the land acquisition process for the Salem-Chennai Expressway project

June 3, 2019: DMK president MK Stalin, on May 31, 2019, hit out at the centre, for moving the Supreme Court against a Madras High Court order on the Salem-Chennai green corridor project, saying the BJP government was indulging in ‘anti-people’ activity. The centre moved the apex court on May 31, challenging the high court order quashing the land acquisition process for the Rs 10,000-crore Salem-Chennai eight-lane greenfield corridor project.

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“I condemn the centre’s decision to go for an appeal. The decision is a betrayal of the people of Tamil Nadu. Just a day after forming the government, the BJP government has indulged in anti-people activity,” Stalin said in a statement. The BJP and the AIADMK governments have to look for alternative routes, without affecting farmers and the common people, the opposition leader said. “The governments should take constructive steps for development, instead of using coercive measures,” Stalin said.

The high court had held that the environmental clearance was mandatory for the sensitive project. Its order had come on a batch of petitions filed by 35 land owners and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader Anbumani Ramadoss. The pleas had challenged the land acquisition proceedings. Stalin also sought from the PMK, a clear stand on the issue, as the party is also in an alliance led by the AIADMK, alongside the BJP.

Chennai-Salem Expressway project: Madras HC quashes land acquisition process

The Madras HC has quashed the land acquisition process for the Chennai-Salem Expressway project, holding that it required a mega realignment, as the proposed route would have an adverse effect on the environment

April 8, 2019: In a setback to the centre and the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu, a special bench of the Madras High Court, on April 8, 2019, quashed the land acquisition process for the Rs 10,000-crore eight-lane Chennai-Salem highway project, while observing that the project would have an adverse effect on the environment, water bodies and it needed a mega realignment. The bench of justice TS Sivagnanam and justice Bhavani Subbarayan, held that environmental clearance was mandatory for the 277.3-km-long eight-lane greenfield project under the centre’s ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’ scheme, while hearing a batch of petitions by 35 land owners and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss.

The bench made it clear that prior environmental clearance would undoubtedly require a thorough study of the area and before that a public hearing is to be held. The project runs through reserve forest and water bodies. “We are of the considered view that the project highway, as conceived and sought to be implemented, is vitiated on several grounds and consequently, the notifications issued for acquisition of lands under Section 3A(1) (of the National Highways Act) are liable to be quashed,” the bench said.

The bench also held the project report prepared by a consultant unsatisfactory and said it needed to be scrapped. “It defies logic that in such a sensitive project, study could have been made within 60 days, when in the United States of America, a study commenced in 1944 and went on till 1960 for linking two highways.” It said the study report of the project was a ‘cut and paste one by the person who prepared report earlier for some other projects’. “There has been non-application of mind and presumably, the report was required to be prepared within a short period for reasons best known. Therefore, the report prepared by the consultant needs to be scrapped.”

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Referring to entrusting of the work to a consultant to carry out the study with regard to the project, the bench said “The procedure adopted by the NHAI in asking the consultant to carry out a work, which was never the scope of the bid document by an oral arrangement is unheard of. Therefore, unless a proper study is made, the impact on the forest lands, water bodies, wildlife, flora and fauna cannot be assessed,” it said.

Observing that environmental clearance was mandatory, since the project would have an adverse impact on the environment, including water bodies, the bench said if the project highway was to pass through reserve forest area, even if it is to a distance of about 10 kms, it would undoubtedly pave the way for poachers and facilitate easy access. It would also pave way for illicit felling and transportation of valuable timber. “Obviously, the National Highway cannot build a compound wall on both sides of the highway, nor post armed security guards 24×7, to be preventing any ingress or egress into the forest area,” the court said.

The bench said there were flaws in decision making on issuing of tender by the NHAI to a private firm, which was in the initial stage appointed for carrying out work on the Chennai-Trichy-Madurai Economic Corridor, ‘which was later on switched over to the Chennai-Salem greenfield corridor’. It rejected the arguments of additional solicitor general of India that the petitioners were pointing out insignificant errors when they do not have any expertise in the area. “We do not agree with the submission, since the endeavour of the petitioners is to point out the flaws, not only in the acquisition proceedings but the steps taken preceding the acquisition and those done after the notification issued under Section 3A(1) of the Act,” the court said.

HC reserves orders on land acquisition proceedings in Salem-Chennai expressway project

The Madras High Court reserved its order on a batch of writ petitions, challenging the land acquisition proceedings for the proposed eight-lane Salem-Chennai green corridor project

December 17, 2018: 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.

[] Chennai-Salem Expressway: Madras HC upholds Land Act provisions as advantageous to land owners

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.

[] No precipitative action should be taken on Salem-Chennai highway project: HC

“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.

Copyright belongs to:

Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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