Bullet Train: HC junks pleas against land acquisition

Bullet Train: HC junks pleas against land acquisition

In a setback for farmers whose lands are being acquired for ambitious Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project, the Gujarat high court on Thursday rejected a bunch of petitions challenging the acquisition process. The High court held all actions of the state as well as central government legal and valid. 

The division bench of justices Anant S Dave and Biren Vaishnav brushed aside the arguments of farmers that social impact assessment (SIA), rehabilitation and resettlement should have been carried out before issuing notices for acquiring land. The court held that state amendment in the central land acquisition act as valid and opined that although SIA was not required under the amended provision, a private agency did undertake a similar task. 

The farmers had moved high court challenging the constitutionality of section-10A to be read with section 2(1) of the Gujarat Amendment Act, 2016 whereby the Principal Act-The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013- was amended by the state government.

This amendment gave power to the state to exempt any project in the name of “public interest” from conducting "Social Impact Assessment, Consent Clause and safeguarding of food security." The petitioners have claimed that this amendment in the central act by the state of Gujarat is "arbitrary and unconstitutional."

"The very nucleus of the principal act of 2013 was to protect and promote the interests of those whose land is being acquired for development projects and hence was inserted the clause of Social Impact Analysis...it creates record of all the people affected...including landowners as well as landless people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture," the petitioners had stated.

The high court also validated state government as "appropriate government" for acquiring land, which according to petitioners, should have been central government as Bullet train project is handled by the Union government. Court also upheld the three months delay in “entrusting the functions of the Central Government as appropriate Government under the said Act may be performed by the Government of Gujarat.” This nod was given by the President of India three months after the state government had started acquiring land. 

On the aspect of proper compensation too, the court held that the formula adopted by the government is appropriate. However, the court held that farmers can raise the issue of more compensation. Advocate Anand Yagnik, who appeared for farmers said, "we are going to challenge the judgment in the Supreme Court in the next two weeks."