Gujarat HC clears land acquisition for bullet train

Ahmedabad (IANS) The Gujarat High Court on Thursday gave full clearance to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious bullet train project as it rejected over 100 petitions filed by farmers against the land acquisition process and "inadequate" compensation.

A bench of Justice Anant Dave and Justice Biren Vaishnav declined to entertain the petitions challenging the land acquisition for Ahemdabad-Mumbai bullet train project, a 508-km-long project is being undertaken by National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd.

Upholding the validity of the Gujarat amendment in 2016 to the Centre's land acquisition law, the court noted though the project is a multi-state, but the Centre had approved executive power to Gujarat to acquire land for it.

Indicating the legal validity of the process, it observed the President has given assent to this delegation of power, with retrospective effect, to Gujarat. Hence the state can issue notification on the land acquisition process, though it did not have this power in the initial stage.

Justifying Gujarat notifying the land acquisition without Social Impact Assessment (SIA), the court said that state skipping the Central law's provision of mandatory Social Impact Assessment & Rehabilitation & Resettlement before the project was also legal and hence the notification is valid.

The court said that the SIA process carried out under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) guidelines was appropriate and satisfactory.

Ruling on the issue of the compensation for the farmers, the court said the farmers can produce evidence of higher compensation in other projects to justify their demands.

Nearly 60 per cent of the total 6,900 farmers affected by the project had registered objections to the land acquisition process. A representative of the famers reportedly said that they can challenge this decision in the apex court.

In 2018, five farmers from Surat district moved the court against Gujarat's land acquisition notification. They claimed that Centre has the power to issue notification, and the state government does not have the power to acquire land for the multi-state rail project.

Though, these five petitioners withdrew their petition, more than 100 farmers from south and central districts of Gujarat moved the High Court challenging the amendments made by Gujarat in the central land acquisition law.

Nearly a 1,000 farmers, while the hearing was ongoing, had filed a one-page affidavit registering their objection on the land acquisition project and demanded the nature of compensation should be aligned with Centre's land acquisition law, which incorporates socio-economic impact of the project on the people affected.

The farmers also insisted on compensation should be based on current market value of the land.

The railways, however, claimed that the state government has power to acquire land, as the President's assent had already delegated these powers to it.

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