Two farmers from Palghar have moved the Bombay High Court contesting the Maharashtra government’s power to acquire land for the construction of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train corridor and challenged the constitutionality of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2018.
Sadanand Ravte (46) and Nathu Pathare (37), the farmers, have stated in their petition, filed through senior counsel Mihir Desai and lawyer Mihir Joshi, that they moved the High Court after they learnt that their land is proposed to be acquired by the state government for the bullet train project. The negotiations for acquisition of their land are currently under way.
The case is likely to be heard on Monday before a division bench of Justice A A Sayed and Justice Sandeep K Shinde.
Ravte and Pathare have not only challenged the constitutionality of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Maharashtra Amendment) Act, 2018 but also the exercise of powers by the Maharashtra government under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 in connection with the proposed acquisition.
They have contended that since the Rs 1.08 lakh crore high-speed rail project stretches over two states, under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 — a central legislation — the “appropriate government” to undertake the land acquisition would be the Centre and not the Maharashtra government.
The petition says that the amendment as well as the actions of the state in seeking to undertake acquisition of the petitioners’ land for the project are “violative of the petitioner’s rights” and “contrary to the scheme, intent as well as purpose of the Central Act”.
Ravte owns 1 hectare of land and Pathare owns 0.81 hectare of land at Khaniwade village in Palghar. They cultivate rice on their plots and their earnings from the produce are their sole source of income, the petition says.
The petition cites statements issued by the state, National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) and Union of India indicating acquisition of land for the bullet train project would be completed by the end of 2018.
“Despite Section 3(e) of the Central Act, state has issued a notification dated March 31, 2018, stating its intention to arrive at a consensus through discussion and negotiation with the landowners declaring its intention to acquire…the petitioner’s land forms part of the land that is proposed to be acquired by the Respondent No. 2 (state government)”, the petition says.
The petition further states that after a month, the Maharashtra amendment to the Central Act was published on April 26, 2018, in which the state sought to exclude certain categories of project from the basic provisions of the Central Act. The state government has already designated the bullet train project as being one which is in public interest. “It is already exercising powers of the ‘appropriate government’ under the Central Act albeit without jurisdiction and in that vein is likely to exempt the acquisitions under the bullet train project from the beneficial provisions under the Central Act, depriving the petitioners of any effective compensation and other mandatory benefits,” the petition says.
petitioners further said that “even if it assumed that the impugned amendment passes the test of constitutional validity, the Respondent No. 2 (state) cannot exercise its powers under Section 10A as the Respondent No. 2 is not the ‘appropriate government’ for the said project under the scheme of the Central Act. It is stated that the Central Act categorically states that any project which requires acquisition of land in more than one state, in such instances the ‘appropriate government’ to acquire the said land would be the Central Government”.
The petition says that Section 10A inserted by the Maharashtra amendment allows exclusion of projects inter alia from being subjected to “social impact assessment”, which is contrary to the principle of sustainable development, which is an international obligation of the Union of India, and cannot be negated by way of an amendment of the present nature.
The farmers have urged the court to quash and set aside the Maharashtra amendment to the Act and the notification dated March 31, 2018.
The petitioners are also seeking direction that pending the hearing and final disposal of the petition, the Respondents shall not take any coercive steps for acquisition of land for implementation of the project.
Sashi Sonawane, Palghar-based activist, said, “This land is livelihood for Ravte and Pathare. Monetary compensation will definitely not suffice… if they are unable to earn by other jobs, they can at least eat this rice to survive…”
Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Company Limited had contested the acquisition of its prime 39,547 sq m property in Vikhroli for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project in May. In September, Atlanta Limited, a construction and development company, building three residential towers of 20-storey each, moved the Bombay High Court after receiving a notice from the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) to stop construction on its 3-hectare land near Mumbra, as it is said to be in “bullet train project affected area”.