Landowners and activists in Salem have been up in arms against the state government's efforts to acquire land for the Chennai-Salem greenfield expressway. Their protests, however, have faced a huge setback as the existing legislation in terms of land acquisition does not require a mandatory public hearing and gram sabha nod for constructing highways.
In an effort to address this key issue, G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nabargal, an NGO in Tamil Nadu, has filed a public interest litigation in the Madras High Court, challenging the current proceedings. The activist has requested that Section 105 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, which exempts building a national highway along with 13 other activities from public hearing, be declared as null and void.
The NGO states that the laudable feature of the 2013 act is that it ensures that acquisition is conducted in consultation with institutions of local government and Gram Sabhas established under the Constitution. They term this as a humane, participative, informed and transparent process for land acquisition for industrialization, development of essential infrastructural facilities and urbanization with the least disturbance to the owners of the land and other affected families.
"But contrary to the very object of the Act, Section 105 provides that the provisions of the Act shall not apply to the land acquisition under the enactments specified in the Fourth Schedule to the Act. The Fourth Schedule contains thirteen enactments. One of those enactments is the National Highways Act, 1956. Section 105(3) of the Act provides that respondent no.1-Union of India shall apply the provisions of the Act relating to the determination of compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement to the land acquisition made under the National Highways Act, 1956," Sundarrajan explains.
Regressing to the 1956 Act, the petitioner argues, would be destructive to the objective of the latest Act.
"Since the land acquisition proceedings have already commenced under the National Highways Act, 1956 and since the very inclusion of the National Highways Act, 1956 in the Fourth Schedule to the Act is irrational, this Writ Petition is filed in public interest challenging the constitutionality of Section 105 of the Act," argues the petitioner.
The PIL states that Section 105 perpetuates discriminatory treatment on the owners of land acquired under the National Highways Act.
"The owners of the land acquired under the Act and the owners of the land acquired under the enactments mentioned in the Fourth Schedule are similarly placed, the petitioner said. But they are treated in a discriminatory manner in the sense that the beneficiary mandatory provisions would be nonexistent to those whose lands acquired under enactments mentioned in the Fourth Schedule to the Act," the petitioner alleges.
When TNM contacted the petitioner over a PIL, five years after the act came into place, he says, "Till now, we have mostly seen expansions of existing highways. However, now, the loss to the common man is much higher. The NHAI had quoted 2,560 hectares for acquisition for the proposed alignment. There are about 32 settlements along the route."
The corridor proposed under the Bharatmala Pariyojana, a centrally-sponsored and funded road and highways project, is a 277.30 km highway that involves the development of the Tambaram to Harur Section of NH-179B, Harur to Salem Section of NH-179A, Chengalpattu to Kancheepuram Section of NH-132B, Semmampadi to Chetpet Section of NH-179D and Polur to Tiruvannamalai Section of NH-38.
Multiple farmers from the districts where the acquisition process is underway have told TNM that they are unwilling to part with their land and that the compensation announced is far from satisfactory