CHENNAI: In a blow to farmers opposing the Chennai-Salem 277-km eight-lane greenfield corridor, proposed at a cost of Rs 10,000 crore, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the notification to acquire farmlands, and allowed Centre to proceed with the project.
“The central government and/or NHAI may proceed further in the matter in accordance with law for acquisition of notified lands for construction of a national highway or the proposed section/stretch Chennai-Krishnagiri-Salem, being NH 179A and 179B,” ruled a bench of Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice B R Gawai and Justice Krishna Murari on Tuesday.
“We agree with the high court that until the acquisition process is completed and possession of land is taken, the question of altering the mutation entry merely on the basis of notification under Section 3A (express intention to acquire land for the purpose of building, maintenance, management or operation of a national highway) of the National Highways Act, 1956 cannot be countenanced and, therefore, the earlier entries ought to be restored,” said the judges.
The bench was passing orders on the appeals filed against the madras high court orders, by the central government and the NHAI, besides a batch of intervener pleas from farmers. Negativing almost every ground of the high court order, the apex court concurred with the central government’s submission that none of central enactments/rules specify any express condition requiring central government to obtain prior environmental/forest clearance before issuing notification under Section 2(2) declaring the stretch/section to be a national highway or Section 3A of the NH Act to express intention to acquire land for the purpose of building, maintenance, management or operation of a national highway.
“It is amply clear that at the stage of issuing notifications under Section 2(2) or for that matter, Section 3A of the Act, there is no need to seek prior permission (by the Central Government) under environmental laws or the forest laws, as the case may be,” the judges said.
The acquisition process set in motion upon issue of Section 3A notification can go on in parallel until the stage of publication of notification under Section 3D, which can be issued after grant of clearances/permissions by the competent authority under the environment/forest laws and attaining finality, they said.
As for the farmers’ contention that the original project was expansion of Chennai-Madurai highway and that it was changed into a Chennai-Krishnagiri-Salem greenfield corridor arabitrarily and that even the same consultant was retained without adopting mandatory procedure, the judges the decision was taken by a committee of experts after taking into all relevant issues into consideration. Also, “the Central Government had full authority to adopt such a change of stretch/section, by way of substitution/replacement whilst ensuring that there is no need for higher budgetary allocation than envisaged in the already approved programme for Phase I.”
As for the project-affected people’s right to question environmental and other clearances for the greenfield corridor, the judges made it clear that they had not expressed any opinion on the correctness and validity of permissions/clearances accorded by the competent authorities under environment and forest laws, and added: “Therefore, it would be open to the affected persons to question the validity thereof on grounds, as may be permissible, before the appropriate forum.”