The Union government was on Friday added as a respondent to the petitions filed by four farmers in the Gujarat High Court, challenging the land acquisition process for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. A division bench of Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice V M Pancholi made the Union Rural Development Ministry a respondent, as demanded by the lawyer of the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL).
The NHSRCL lawyer said the Centre should be made a party as the farmers’ main contention is that it is the Centre and not the state which can initiate land acquisition. Assistant Solicitor General of India Devang Vyas supported this view. On the direction of the high court, petitioners’ lawyer Anand Yagnik submitted a draft amendment adding the Centre as a respondent.
Other respondents are the Gujarat government, NHSRCL, and the district collector. Petitioners, who are from Surat district, have contended that as the project extends to more than one states (Gujarat and Maharashtra), the “appropriate government” which can acquire the land under the 2013 Land Acquisition Act is the Union government.
The matter will be further heard on July 10. Another contention of the petitioners is that the market value of the land was not revised by the special land acquisition officer, as required under Section 26 of the 2013 Act. The petitioners have also challenged the Gujarat Amendment Act, 2016 which tweaked the 2013 law.
It gives “unbridled and unfettered powers” to the state government to exempt any project “in public interest” from the social impact assessment (SIA), the petitions said. Under the Central law, SIA is mandatory before land acquisition.