Chennai: The Madras High Court quashed the land acquisition process initiated by the Tamilnadu government along with the Centre for the Rs 10,000 crore Chennai-Salem eight-lane greenfield expressway corridor.
A special division bench of Justice T S Sivagnanam and Justice Bhavani Subbaroyan passed the order after holding that environmental clearance was mandatory for the project as it would have an adverse impact on the environment, including water bodies.
The judges noted that a project report submitted by a private consultant was highly flawed, The judges passed the order hearing a batch of pleas moved by PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss, 35 landowners directly affected by the project and advocate A P Suryapragasam.
During the course of the hearing, the Centre defended the project by stating that the expressway would actually help the environment by preventing release of around 17 crore kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to the effect achieved through a 38,000 ha forest area with 75 lakh trees and shortening of travelling distance between Chennai and Salem by 57 km to 75 km.
The marathon hearing on the pleas has been taking place for about six months from June to December when the Division Bench reserved its verdict. The judges, during the several hearings, censured the State government for its insensitive approach towards the cases.
The bench also came to the rescue of the landowners when they alleged harassment by police and restrained authorities from dispossessing the landowners pending disposal of the pleas. The Court had passed several interim orders restraining the government from forcibly dispossessing the landowners from their properties and not to use police force against the protesters.
On the last day of arguments, the National Highways Authority of India submitted that the question of dispossession of land owners did not arise until notification was issued under the act.
Moreover, in view of the interim order by the court, the NHAI had not issued any such notification thus far, the project director said. As to the fresh notification issued by authorities to acquire 1,125 acres, assistant solicitor general Karthikeyan submitted that it was issued under Section 3A of the Act, which did not confer any rights on the NHAI other than to enter the lands for inspection and survey.
He further submitted that after publication of 3A notifications on various dates from 10 May to 21 June, many minor changes had been made to the alignments, which had led to benefits for the public and, in fact, the required area had come down.