Ahmedabad: The Gujarat High Court on Thursday dismissed over 120 petitions filed by farmers challenging the process of their land acquisition for the ambitious Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet train project.
However, in a partial relief to the petitioners, a division bench of justices A S Dave and Biren Vaishnav said the issue of higher compensation is still “open” and farmers can approach the authorities concerned to seek more money against their land.
The court said while seeking more money, the farmers could cite past examples where higher compensation was offered by the National Highway Authority of India or any other such entity for acquiring land.
In its order on Thursday, the bench upheld the validity of the Land Acquisition Act amended by the Gujarat government in 2016 and subsequently approved by the president.
The petitioners had challenged the state amendment which tweaked the central law of 2013.
The court 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 two states — Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The court was also of the opinion that powers conferred to the bureaucracy under the state Act to give a ‘go-by’ to social impact assessment as well as rehabilitation and resettlement, if needed, do not fall into the category of ‘excessive delegation’, as contended by the agitating farmers.
Further, the court held that issuance of a notification declaring the commencement of land acquisition without undertaking social impact assessment is also valid.
The bench also stated that the entire process of calculating compensation was fair.
The court was satisfied with the social and environment impact assessment carried out by a private agency engaged by the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, as per guidelines of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is funding the mega project.
After the setback, the petitioners’ counsel, Anand Yagnik, said the farmers who mostly belong to south Gujarat would approach the Supreme Court against the order.
These farmers, through their petitions, 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 claimed that compensation was being offered to them on the market rates decided way back in 2011.
Citing Section 26 of the Land Acquisition Act, they demanded that before calculating the compensation, the state government must first revise the market rates of their land and give compensation on those rates, and not of 2011.
The petitioners also challenged the Gujarat Amendment Act, 2016 which tweaked the 2013 law.
The ambitious bullet train project was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in September 2017.
The bullet train will run at a speed of 320-350 kmph, and have 12 stations across its 508-km stretch.
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