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Gujarat HC clears land acquisition for bullet train (Lead)

Thursday - September 19, 2019 7:34 pm , Category : BUSINESS
Ahmedabad, Sep 19 (IANS) The Gujarat High Court on Thursday gave clearance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious bullet train project as it rejected over 59 out of 61 petitions filed by farmers against the land acquisition process and "inadequate" compensation.
A bench of Justices Anant Dave and Biren Vaishnav declined to entertain the petitions challenging the land acquisition for the 508-km-long Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project 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 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 the state skipping the central law's provision of mandatory Social Impact Assessment and Rehabilitation and 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 compensation should be based on current market value of the land.
A senior National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) official told IANS, "Out of 61 petitions filed in Gujarat High Court, 59 were dismissed vide the High Court order today." The official said that in Gujarat NHSRCL is giving 6.5 times the published 'Jantri' rate as compensation. The official further said that skill development training was done in Khera for the project affected people.
According to the NHSRCL, more than 50 per cent land required for the project has been acquired in Gujarat. 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.

--IANS aks/kr