NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed all appeals of Tamil Nadu land owners against land acquisition and allowed the National Highway Authority of India to acquire the notified land for construction of an 8-lane national highway corridor as part of the Bharatmala Project.
The government had challenged the Madras High Court order striking down the land acquisition on various grounds and directing the revenue authorities to restore the mutation entries that cannot be altered merely on the basis of the acquisition notification.
The 3-judge Bench, while negating the challenge to the land acquisition notifications, gave a liberty to the affected persons to question the validity of the environment and forest clearances before the appropriate forum, leaving open all contentions available to the parties.
The Bench noted that it has not examined the clearances granted by the competent authority under the environment or forest laws because they were not raised before it.
Giving its nod to the 277-km long Chennai-Salem express highway, the court said the Centre does not need to take prior environment and other clearances at the time of acquiring lands for expansion of the existing roads or for constructing a new road as a part of the national highway. It rejected the landowners' plea that the Centre's powers to build roads is limited to the existing roads and highways within a state.
It said the question of taking environment and forest clearances will arise only at the stage when NHAI would arrive at the stage of executing a highway project. The High Court had on April 8, 2019 struck down the land acquisition notification on the ground that these clearances were not obtained while the construction of the express highway would adversely impact the environment
OUR CORRESPONDENT ADDS: In normal circumstances, the ruling AIADMK would have cheered the Supreme Court’s verdict upholding. But with the Assembly elections less than six months away, the Edappadi Palaniswami Government chose to maintain a studied silence on the verdict.
The opposition-led by the DMK was quick to express shock and urged the State Government to go ahead with the project. So did the PMK, an ally of the AIADMK, but which had opposed the project from the beginning.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court waved the green flag saying “national highways are the arteries of India’s economy.”
The three-judge bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar in its 140-page judgment, held, “The existence of a national highway in the neighbourhood paves the way for the fulfilment of aspirations of the locals and their empowerment.”