Clearing a hurdle standing in the way of the Chennai Metro Rail project, the Madras High Court has set aside a single judge’s order of November last year, which had delayed the acquisition of a plot of land near the Central Railway Station.

The single judge had asked the government to first issue notices to those in possession of the property, which belonged to a trust.

However, a Division Bench disagreed with the single judge’s observation that proper notices were not served to the parties concerned. In a common judgement on appeals filed by the State government and Chennai Metro Rail Ltd (CMRL), the Bench, comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao (since retired) and M. Venugopal, said there was voluminous material to show that the government had issued notices to the Administrator-General and Official Trustee (AG and OT) in respect of the property concerned.

The Bench said the property undoubtedly belonged to the government, but it was vested with the trust for a specific charitable purpose. Under a scheme framed by the High Court due to some litigation, the AG and OT, administering that trust property, had granted lease in favour of various parties.

When the AG and OT was administering the trust, the government should issue notice only to him and not to the tenants. Accordingly, notices had been properly served on him and he, in turn, had served notices on the tenants and lessees. The tenants were not direct tenants under the government. Thus, the notices served through the official trustee satisfied the principles of natural justice.

Originally, writ petitions were filed challenging a May 2012 order of the revenue department relating to taking over the land for the Metro Rail project. The single judge set aside the order and remitted the matter back to the government, asking it to issue notices to those in possession of the trust land/buildings. He also ordered that after considering their objections and giving them an opportunity of hearing, the government should pass fresh orders as expeditiously as possible.

Aggrieved by this, the State government and CMRL filed an appeal.

Additional Advocate-General P.H. Arvindh Pandian justified the need for acquiring the land for the public project. The trust had violated the terms and conditions of grant, automatically paving the way for the government to take the land from the trust.

The Bench noted that by virtue of court orders, the hereditary trustees were removed and the property was under the AG and OT.

After inspecting the site, the Tahsildar had submitted a report to the government that commercial activities were going on in the building and certain portions had been sub-let illegally. A plan had been submitted by CMRL showing that it was not demolishing the heritage structures, but was preserving them.

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