Decks cleared for completion of road project

Petitions challenging notification for acquisition of 1.5 km of land dismissed by HC

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has cleared the decks for the completion of a National Highway road project in Kanniyakumari district. A batch of petitions challenging the notification for acquisition of 1.5 km of land for the project was dismissed by the court.

The National Highways Authority of India wanted to develop the existing two lane road to a four lane road from Villukuri to Kanniyakumari. Notification was issued for the acquisition of the lands and the Central government expressed the intention to acquire the lands.

The owners were called for an inquiry and ultimately certain objections were made. But, the objections were rejected and the notification was published in the gazette. A notice was then issued to determine the compensation. Aggrieved by the same, the petitions were filed.

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh took cognisance of the fact that more than 90 % of the project had been completed and the government had spent nearly ₹1,300 crore. Due to the pendency of the petitions, NHAI could not complete the work for 1.5 kms distance.

The court took note of the fact that NHAI had provided certain details under the RTI Act with regard to the project. Wondering as to how this was done, the court observed that the NHAI should not provide information under the RTI Act till the detailed project report was finalised, approved by the Central government and a notification was issued.

If such information was provided, the acquisition proceedings will be stalled and people will start knocking at the doors of the court even before the notification was published. The court made it clear that NHAI should not be divulging the information when the project was at the preparatory stage.

The petitioners also complained that the alignment was altered to suit the needs of a church and based on the pressure exerted by an MLA. The court said that it did not find any ground to sustain this allegation. An elected representative keeps receiving requests from the public and it cannot be assumed that there was political pressure to alter the alignment.

The court said that there were guiding principles where the project must attempt to steer clear of obstructions such as places of worship. There was no promise made to the petitioners by NHAI regarding the alignment. Any project at a nascent stage gets evolved and finally gets approved, the court said and dismissed the petitions.

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