Court clears move to acquire land for Chennai-Salem national highway
The Centre is “fully competent” to notify “any land (not necessarily an existing road/highway) for acquisition, to construct a highway to be a national highway”, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday while upholding notifications issued under the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Act, 1956, for acquisition of land for construction of the eight-lane Chennai-Krishnagiri-Salem national highway.
The highway is to be built as part of the Bharatmala Pariyojna–Phase-I project.
Allowing an appeal by NHAI and the Centre against a Madras High Court judgment quashing the notifications, a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari said that “there is nothing in the Constitution which constricts the power of Parliament to make a law for declaring any stretch/section within the State not being a road or an existing highway, to be a national highway”.https://images.indianexpress.com/2020/08/1×1.png
On the other hand, the court said, “provisions in the Constitution unambiguously indicate that the legislative as well as executive power regarding all matters concerning and connected with a highway to be designated as a national highway, vests in Parliament, and the laws to be made by it in that regard. For the same reason, the complete executive power also vests within the Union.”
The Central government, the bench pointed out, “is free to construct/build anew national highway keeping in mind the obligations it has to discharge under Part IV of the Constitution for securing a social order and promotion of welfare of the people in the concerned region, to provide them adequate means of livelihood, distribute material resources as best to subserve the common good, create new opportunities, so as to empower the people of that area including provisioning new economic opportunities in the area through which the national highway would pass and the country’s economy as a whole.
“The availability of a highway in any part of the State paves way for sustainable development and for overall enhancement of human well-being, including to facilitate the inhabitants there to enjoy a decent quality of life, creation of assets (due to natural increase in market value of their properties) and to fulfil their aspirations of good life by provisioning access to newer and present-day opportunities.”
The project had come under challenge on grounds that the notification issued under Section 3(A) of the NHAI Act could only have been done after environmental clearance. It was also contended that the Centre could not acquire open green fields for construction of national highway, and that only a preexisting state highway could be declared as such.
The HC upheld the argument that prior environmental clearance was needed for issuing the notification under Section 3(A) for the project, 10 km of which is scheduled to pass through the forest region.
Overruling this, the SC said the notification is only an expression of interest to acquire the designated land, and no prior environmental clearance was needed before issuing it.