The State government on Thursday told the Madras High Court that landowners whose properties had to be acquired for the proposed greenfield Chennai-Salem eight-lane national highway would be paid “fantastic” compensation at the rate of three to four times the market value, and therefore, it would be naive on their part to challenge the acquisition process.
Advocate-General Vijay Narayan made the submission before Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and N. Seshasayee during the preliminary hearing of a public interest litigation petition filed by G. Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, a registered public trust concerned with environmental issues, to declare the land acquisition proceedings as unconstitutional, null and void.
The petitioner had also challenged the constitutional validity of Section 105 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 since the provision prevented the beneficial provisions of the enactment from being applied to acquisitions made for the purpose of national highways and 12 other purposes.
Arguing the case for the petitioner, his counsel M. Radhakrishnan stated that compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement were significant components of the 2013 enactment but they had not been made applicable to land acquisitions made under the National Highways Act of 1956 and 12 other enactments including the Electricity Act of 2003 and the Railways Act of 1989.
He also said that the need for conducting social impact assessment by conducting public hearings and ascertaining the views of the people had been dispensed with when it came to acquisition of land under the 13 enactments. Such exclusion of beneficial provisions was nothing but a “fraud” committed by the legislature and amounted to perpetuating discrimination, he contended.
However, Additional Solicitor General G. Rajagopalan, representing the Centre, said the Union Ministry of Rural Development had in 2015 decided to extend the beneficial provisions of the 2013 enactment to acquisitions made for all purposes including laying of national highways. He sought two weeks’ time to ascertain whether the decision had been implemented.
Further, he questioned the locus standi of the petitioner to file the case on the ground that he was not a landowner whose property was to be acquired for the Chennai-Salem highway. Later, the Advocate General said social impact assessment was a time-consuming process, and therefore, it had been done away with in so far as acquisitions for national highways were concerned.
After hearing them, the judges adjourned the case to July 12.
In the meantime, Chennai based advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam too filed PIL petition in the High Court seeking a direction to appoint a committee of environmentalists and agriculturalists to study the ecological damage and unemployment problem that could be caused due to acquisition of agricultural lands. His PIL petition is expected to be listed for hearing on Friday.