In an attempt to allay fears among people whose lands are to be acquired for the ₹10,000-crore eight-lane Chennai-Salem expressway, the Madras High Court on Tuesday directed the Centre, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the State government not to dispossess landowners of their properties until further orders.
The interim order was passed by a Division Bench of Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and V. Bhavani Subbaroyan on a batch of cases filed by a few landowners as well as public interest litigants against the land acquisition proceedings.
It, however, would not preclude officials from carrying out works such as survey of land and marking boundaries.
The judges chose to issue the direction after senior counsel N.L. Rajah, representing PMK Member of Parliament Anbumani Ramadoss, who had also filed a public interest litigation petition against the acquisition, brought to the notice of the court that most landowners were afraid of being dispossessed of their properties at any moment.
Though Advocate General Vijay Narayan told the court that acquisition proceedings were at a nascent stage and there was no imminent threat of anyone being dispossessed, the judges said, “We deem it appropriate that we clarify (through a direction) the aspect which has been placed before us by the learned Advocate General so that it will allay all fears.” Penning the interim order, Justice Sivagnanam said that such a direction had become necessary especially because pamphlets issued on behalf of the Kancheepuram Collector, explaining the salient features of the ambitious expressway project and the benefits that would ensue on its completion, did not contain any assurance that there was no immediate threat of dispossession.
After passing the interim order, the judges delinked a PIL petition filed by G. Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, a non-governmental organisation, from the batch of cases and began hearing it first, since it had challenged the constitutional validity of Section 105 of the Right to Fair Compensation in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
The petitioner’s counsel, M. Radhakrishnan, contended that Section 105 could not be allowed to remain in the statute book since it prevented all beneficial provisions of the legislation from being applied to acquisitions made for the purpose of national highways. He said it was unfair to deny rehabilitation and resettlement to those who parted with their lands for laying highways.
However, Additional Solicitor General G. Rajagopalan and the Advocate General rebutted his arguments. They contended that Section 105 of the Act states that its provisions would not be applicable for acquisitions made for national highways alone but also for 12 other public purposes such as providing rail connectivity and supplying electricity.
When Parliament, in its wisdom, had thought it fit to keep acquisition of lands for certain public purposes out of the purview of the 2013 enactment to avoid unnecessary delays, it could not be said to be unfair, they contended. They also questioned the locus standi of the petitioner to challenge the legal provision and the acquisition proceedings for the expressway.
After hearing their arguments, the Division Bench reserved its verdict on the PIL petition.