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SC Agrees to hear Pleas Against Bullet Train Land Acquisition

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine a batch of pleas filed by farmers against the Gujarat High Court verdict which had dismissed their petitions challenging the process of land acquisition for the ambitious Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project.

A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose issued notices to the Centre, Gujarat government and others on a batch of appeals challenging September 19, 2019 verdict of the high court.

As an interim relief, the plea has sought to restrain the Gujarat government from proceeding ahead with the process of land acquisition for the purpose of the bullet train project.

“Issue notice on the SLPs (special leave petitions) as well as on the application for stay, returnable on March 20, 2020,” the bench said.

“Notice to be served on the standing counsel for the state of Gujarat. Reply may be filed within four weeks. Rejoinder, if any, may be filed within two weeks thereafter,” the apex court said in its order.

In its verdict, the high court had upheld the validity of the Land Acquisition Act amended by the Gujarat government in 2016 and subsequently approved by the president.

The high court had turned down the farmers’ claim that the Gujarat government did not have powers to issue a notification for land acquisition, since the project was divided between the two states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. It had said that issuance of a notification declaring the commencement of land acquisition without undertaking social impact assessment is also valid.

In one of the appeals filed in the apex court, the petitioner said the high court had upheld the validity of the 2016 state amendment brought by the Gujarat government into The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

It said acquisition of land “has to be done for the purpose of Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project which is being executed and implemented by the National High Speed Railway Corporation Ltd (NHSRCL), a special purpose vehicle incorporated under the Companies Act 2013” and as per the provision of the 2013 Act, the Centre is the “appropriate government” for this.

It said the process of land acquisition could only be triggered on the request made by NHSRCL and, although there is a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Gujarat government and NHSRCL, there is no request or requisition by the corporation which has been placed on record.

“As such the central government being the appropriate government, except that a document is issued post-facto, there cannot be any request or requisition by NHSRCL requisitioning the land to government of Gujarat, therefore, the initiation of proceedings for the acquisition of land for the bullet train project at the very outset is void,” the plea said.

It alleged that proceedings for land acquisition has been “illegally initiated” by the state government in contravention of the provisions of 2013 Act and it would “deprive the farmers of their property and only source of livelihood, in the absence of valid law, which is unjust, unfair and arbitrary.”

“They said illegal action would create an irreversible situation, causing not only grave injustice but also irreparable injury to them,” the plea said. Before the high court, the farmers had claimed that the process of land acquisition could not be started before revising the prices of their land, as mandated under the Land Acquisition Act, 2013.

They had claimed that compensation was being offered to them on the market rates decided way back in 2011. The high court, in its verdict, had said the issue of higher compensation was still “open” and farmers could approach the authorities concerned to seek more money against their land.