The Tamil Nadu government has assured the Madras High Court that land acquisition proceedings for the Salem-Chennai Expressway will not be carried out until September 20, the date of the next hearing. Contrary to several media reports, no stay has been ordered by the High Court on the land acquisition.
On Friday, the Madras High Court placed on record the government's submission to this effect and ordered the National Highways Authority of India (NHA) to file a flow chart of all the assessments and studies undertaken for the project thus far. The NHAI's Project Director in Kancheepuram had filed an affidavit on the status of environmental impact assessment and the feasibility studies of the project. Following the NHAI's submission, land owners had expressed fears that the government may go ahead with the land acquisition proceedings by issuing a notification under Section 3D of the National Highways Act, 1956.
Section 3D of the National Highways Act, 1956 deals with declarations of acquisition made by the Central Government when an objection has not been raised to a project within a stipulated time period.
The proposed 277.30 km-long highway to connect Chennai and Salem district has seen protests by farmers, environmental activists and political parties in the state, who have slammed the state government for not consulting the people whose agricultural lands and livelihoods are at stake.
On Friday, Justices TS Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan also ordered the Tamil Nadu government to immediately follow through on its policy decision of planting 10 trees per every tree felled for the project.
The court pronounced this order following the discovery that 109 trees were illegally felled in the Pappireddipatti area.
Further, the High Court pointed out, “One more disturbing feature is that the place where the 109 trees have been felled, is, admittedly, 30 meters away from the alignment of the proposed highway. The distance is a matter of concern because, while making assessment, obviously the authorities, who make the study, will be under the impression that the land is a barren land.”
Therefore, the court ordered the government to explicitly make it known to the concerned authorities for the project’s environment impact assessment that 109 trees had, in fact, been felled.