The Supreme Court has refused to stay the Madras High Court order quashing takeover of land for the eight-lane Chennai-Salem Expressway which is resisted by farmers.
Admitting an appeal against the Madras High Court order by the National Highway Authority of India, vacation bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and M M Shah refused to grant an interim stay on the order and instead asked all parties—the Tamil Nadu Government, farmers and former Union Minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss who has impleaded himself in the case as an opponent of the project—to file their response within a month.
During the hearing, the judges asked how the authorities started land acquisition without issuing a notification. The judges also asked how the NHAI would replant uprooted trees in case its plea was rejected.
The proposed Rs 10,000 crore highway to cut down travel time between Chennai and Salem had met with massive protests across the state beginning in May last year. The highways project, initiated under the Bharatmala Pariyojana Scheme, aims to add to the three existing routes between the two districts. However, with several acres of agricultural land being affected, the project was opposed by farmers, activists and opposition parties.
In April this year, the Madras High Court said that the benefits of the project were 'illusory' and the pre-feasibility report was full errors and halted the land proceedings. The high court also said that prior environmental clearance was necessary as the road would pass through forest lands and acquiring land without it was illegal.
The, NHAI in its appeal contended that stalling of the project would set a dangerous precedent. If prior environmental clearance was made mandatory for before taking over land, other infrastructure and development projects across the country face multiple litigations.
It also argued that if the high court order was not stayed, land costs would escalate by the time the case reached finality.