The Supreme Court has refused to grant interim relief to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on an earlier order by the Madras High Court, quashing land acquisition for the Chennai-Salem eight-lane expressway. The matter came up before the Supreme Court’s vacation bench headed by Justice Indu Malhotra. The apex court has asked all petitioners— including the state government, farmers and former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss— to reply within a month explaining their position.
Stating that the case warranted further investigation, the Supreme Court reportedly pointed out that there were errors in the land acquisition process. Speaking to Puthiya Thalaimurai, Prabhu, an advocate appearing on behalf of an affected farmer, said, “The Supreme Court said they would not give a stay. They expressed shock and asked them (the government) how did you start land acquisition without issuing a notification? The court also asked how they would reassemble the trees uprooted for this, if they lost their case in court. They replied stating that they had a strong case.”
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 already 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', scrapping land acquisition proceedings. It also slammed the pre-feasibility report prepared for the project which was riddled with errors.
Following this, NHAI had appealed to the apex court on the basis that the stalling of the project would set a dangerous precedent for other infrastructure and development projects across the country. It also argued that the lower court had been emotionally swayed by the petitioners and that it had a 'good case on merits'.