Bullet train project: HC dismisses Gujarat farmers’ plea against land acquisition

The project for the 508-km long bullet train corridor is being implemented by a special purpose vehicle the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) at a cost of Rs 1.08 lakh crore.

The Gujarat High Court on Thursday dismissed a set of 59 petitions moved by farmers against land acquisition for the Centre s Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project.

In their petitions, the farmers had challenged the land acquisition process adopted by the Gujarat government for the project, and also demanded four times the prevailing market rates as compensation for their land.

Upholding the land acquisition process adopted by the state, the High Court kept the issue of compensation open while giving the farmers the liberty to approach the government for it at the appropriate time.

A pision bench of Justices Anant Dave and Biren Vaishnav pronounced the judgment on a set of petitions moved by farmers from south Gujarat. The project for the 508-km long bullet train corridor is being implemented by a special purpose vehicle the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) at a cost of Rs 1.08 lakh crore.

Advocate Archana Amin, who represented NHSRCL in court, said the farmers had challenged the process adopted by the Gujarat government for acquiring land, under the amended Right to Fair compensation & Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Act, 2016.

The petitioners contended that as the bullet train is an inter-state project, the Centre is the appropriate authority for land acquisition and Gujarat government cannot initiate the process by issuing notifications under the provisions of the amended 2016 Act.

Amin said the Railways Ministry has issued a notification while delegating powers to the state government to initiate land acquisition, and the notification has got the ascent of the President.

So, the court has observed that in view of the presidential ascent, the notification can and may have retrospective effect, said Amin.

The other aspect raised by the petitioners was about social impact assessment (SIA) of the project. The NHSRCL had contended that under the amended 2016 Act, the SIA was not mandatory. However, it added, as per the guidelines of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), an assessment was carried out by the company. JICA is funding the project.

The amended 2016 act of the Gujarat government was an amendment to the Central Act of 2013 related to land acquisition. In the 2013 Act of the Centre, SIA was compulsory for land acquisition for any project. However, that provision was dropped by the 2016 amended Act, which has got the President s ascent as well.

In their petitions, the farmers also raised the issues of compensation and rehabilitation & resettlement (R&R) and demanded that they be paid four times the prevailing market rate.

Amin said, The court has kept the issue of compensation open because this is not the proper stage of the project for the same. The court has held that the farmers can make appropriate demand when the stage of compensation is reached in the project…

Expressing disappointment over the judgment, farmers advocate Anand Yagnik said they would move the Supreme Court. Not only farmers, around 1500 non-farmers whose properties are going to be affected due to the project, will also join the farmers in the apex court, he said.

With ENS, Surat