The highway taken: The Hindu Editorial on Chennai-Salem greenfield freeway

By upholding notifications intending to amass agricultural land for the proposed Chennai-Salem greenfield freeway, the Supreme Court docket has each paved the best way for finishing the land acquisition course of and sought to make sure that environmental clearances are obtained earlier than its building. It has dominated that it will likely be untimely to anticipate the authorities to acquire environmental approvals on the stage of figuring out the land linked to the proposed alignment of a freeway, however, as soon as the land was notified for acquisition and surveyed for feasibility, they must apply for all statutory clearances. It could be on the stage of entertaining objections that questions reminiscent of whether or not the mission was actually a ‘public objective’ could possibly be handled. Nonetheless, the land could possibly be taken over and building begun solely after the competent authorities give their clearances, together with measures for mitigating and remedying potential environmental harm. The judgment of the Madras Excessive Court docket, which had taken a nuanced place in favour of environmental safety, agriculture and preservation of rural livelihoods over the financial advantages of a brand new freeway on virgin land, has been put aside within the course of. The Excessive Court docket had proven higher sensitivity to potential livelihood and ecological issues. It had favoured early judicial intervention, counting on judgments from the U.S. that spoke out in opposition to letting initiatives advance to such a stage that there’s irreversible dedication of sources.

The three-judge Bench has now dominated that the Excessive Court docket was mistaken in holding that clearances below environmental and forest legal guidelines had been required even earlier than the preliminary land acquisition discover. It goes on to uphold the Centre’s energy to inform any stretch of land, together with greenfield land, and never merely a pre-existing highway, as a nationwide freeway. As a part of a rising physique of jurisprudence on sustainable growth, the highest court docket had laid down in Karnataka Industrial Areas Growth Board (2006) a normal precept that in future, earlier than buying land for growth, the potential hostile environmental influence ought to be “correctly comprehended” and the acquisition executed in a manner that didn’t impair it. In a departure from this dictum, it now says the statutory framework governing highways and the method laid down for buying land for freeway initiatives didn’t present for a previous clearance requirement. The Court docket’s line of reasoning based mostly totally on development-centric statutes is one thing of a disappointment when it may have taken, even at this stage, a holistic view of the necessity for sustainable growth. True, it has left open the query whether or not the clearances obtained after the lands had been notified for acquisition are legitimate; and the precept that building of the highways can not start with out such clearances additionally stays. However it isn’t inconceivable that the Court docket’s place might have rendered the mission a fait accompli.


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