The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the Madras High Court order quashing the land acquisition process for the ₹10,000-crore Salem-Chennai eight-lane greenfield corridor project.
A vacation bench comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and M.R. Shah, however, issued notices to the parties, including the Tamil Nadu government, on the appeal of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which had challenged the High Court order.
“We are going to issue notices on the special leave petition (SLP)...We are not going to stay the High Court’s order,” it said while declining the plea of the Project Implementation Unit of NHAI that the High Court order be stayed.
The NHAI had moved the top court on May 31 and the Bench had then agreed to hear the appeal.
The High Court had held that environmental clearance was mandatory for the sensitive project.
The High Court’s order came on a batch of petitions filed by 35 landowners and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss. The pleas had challenged the land acquisition proceedings.
The High Court had made it clear that grant of prior environmental clearance would undoubtedly require a thorough study of the area, and before that, a public hearing was needed.
The ambitious 277.3-km-long eight-lane greenfield project connecting Salem and Chennai under the Centre’s Bharatmala Pariyojana aims to cut travel time between the two cities by half to about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
However, it has been facing opposition from a section of locals, including farmers, over fears they would lose their land, besides from environmentalists, who are against the felling of trees for the project.
The project runs through reserve forests and waterbodies.
“We are of the considered view that the highway project as conceived and sought to be implemented is vitiated on several grounds...and consequently, the notifications issued for acquisition of land under Section 3A(1) (of the National Highways Act) are liable to be quashed,” the High Court had said.
It also held as ‘unsatisfactory’ the project report of a consultant and said it needed to be scrapped. It said that unless a proper study was carried out, the impact on forest land, waterbodies, wildlife, flora and fauna cannot be assessed.
Environmental clearance was mandatory since the project would have an adverse impact on the environment, including on waterbodies, it said.
If the highway were to pass through a reserve forest area, even if it was to a distance of about 10 km, it would undoubtedly pave the way for poachers and facilitate easy access [for them], the Hight Court said, adding that it would also pave the way for illicit felling and transportation of valuable timber.