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Bullet train: Gujarat HC hears farmers’ pleas; land required too less to carry out impact assessment, says govt

The state government’s response comes on a set of petitions filed by farmers, mostly from south Gujarat, challenging the land acquisition for the Bullet Train project on various ground.

Written by Satish Jha | Ahmedabad |
Updated: August 21, 2018 1:16:45 pm
The land acquisition notifications were met with tough resistance and protests by farmers who challenged it in the court. (Representational) The government, however, has argued that “the extent of the width of the land required for the (Bullet train) project being linear in nature, is very minimal — to the extent of only 17.5 metres of width except at stations and depots”. (Representational Image)

Defending the contentious issue of doing away with the mandatory social impact assessment and consent clauses of the 2013 Central land acquisition law in its amended state land law, the BJP government in Gujarat on Monday told the High Court that there was no need for conducting the social impact assessment for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train project since it is a “linear project” and the amount of land to be acquired for it is very less.

In an affidavit filed by Deputy Secretary of state Revenue Department, Keshavlal Dhulabhai Upadhyay, the government informed the court that as per section 10A of the state’s amended law for acquiring land, “additional benefits” — a lump sum amount equal to 50 per cent of the amount of compensation determined — will be given to the land losers in terms of rehabilitation and resettlement cost.

“The Amendment Act of 2016 is intra-vires the provisions of the Constitution and very much in sync with the (Central) Act of 2013. A Bill relating to the said Amendment Act of 2016 came to be introduced in the State Legislature with the specific objectives as are set out in the Statement of Objects and Reasons… Section 31A of the Amendment Act of 2016 categorically provides that it shall be competent for the State Government to pay, whenever the land is to be acquired in case of projects which are linear in nature as referred to in proviso to sub section (iv) of Section 10 of the Act of 2013 , as rehabilitation and resettlement cost, lump sum equal to fifty per cent of the amount of compensation as determined under section 27, to the affected families”.

The state government’s response comes on a set of petitions filed by farmers, mostly from south Gujarat, challenging the land acquisition for the Bullet Train project on various ground, including validity of section 10A with section 2(1) of Gujarat Amendment Act, 2016. Through the amendment, the state government tweaked the sections of the Central land law — Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 — mandating requirement of social impact assessment and consent clause. The petitions claimed that the amendment is “in cross purpose with the objects and reasons of the (Central) Act of 2013 or that seeks to destroy the nucleus of the Act 2013.”

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The government, however, has argued that “the extent of the width of the land required for the (Bullet train) project being linear in nature, is very minimal — to the extent of only 17.5 metres of width except at stations and depots”.

“In view of this, the resultant consequential impact in terms of displacement would be very meagre as compared to other large projects in respect of which, additional benefits beyond monetary compensation like rehabilitation and resettlement are required to be provided to the families of affected by involuntary displacement,” the affidavit stated.

“The requirement of land is very negligible as compared to the requirement of land for national highways, where the width thereof varies from 50 to 60 metres. Thus, issues of resettlement are very minimal for the project in question,” the affidavit stated, going on to add that “most of the (Bullet Train) corridor lawill be elevated, except for 21 km underground tunnel of which 7 kms will be under sea”.

Regarding the status of implementation of the project, the affidavits claimed that a “major portion has already been completed, and notifications under sections 10A and 11 of the 2013 Act have already been issued and joint measurement and surveys of more than 100-km-stretch/villages have been completed.”
Besides, it said, that the hearings on objections raised by landowners have been notified and are on the verge of completion, adding “an amount of Rs 380 crore has already been spent towards the project”.

The Revenue Department’s affidavit also claimed that a “much larger proportion of landowners whose lands are proposed to be acquired (for the Bullet Train project), have offered their lands by consent for the reason that there is a provision of payment of 25 per cent extra on land value for landowners offering their land by consent.”

‘Project conceived during UPA govt’

The Revenue Department has also put in perspective on how the big ticket project was conceived at the time of the previous UPA government and its foundation was laid last year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

“It was after the visit of Indian delegation led by prime minister (Manmohan Singh) of our country to Japan that a need for the construction of High Speed Train was realised in larger public interest, which led to announcement in the month of May 2013 for carrying out joint feasibility study on Mumbai-Ahmedabad Rail project,” it stated.

The affidavit claimed that last year, the National High Speed Rail Corporation requested the chief secretary of Gujarat that it is planning to submit land acquisition papers “with an expectation that all the papers would be submitted to the concerned authorities, more particularly in view of the project…whose success largely depends upon timely acquisition… as the project has been desired to be delivered in August 2022.”

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