More than three months after litigations were filed in the Gujarat High Court challenging land acquisition process for the bullet train project by the state government on several grounds including that it is not the appropriate authority to acquire lands, the Ministry of Railways on Thursday filed an affidavit informing the court that the President of India has issued a notification on October 8 “entrusting the functions of the Central Government as appropriate Government under the said Act may be performed by the Government of Gujarat.”
The affidavit states: “All the actions taken by the Government of Gujarat in relation to the acquisition of land within the territory of Gujarat for the aforesaid purpose which shall be deemed to have been taken for and own behalf of the Central Government and shall be deemed to be legal and valid for all purposes.” The affidavit has annexed copies of notification that declares the state government as appropriate authority for acquiring land.
The petitioners, all farmers from south Gujarat whose lands are to be acquired for the project, moved the court against proposed acquisition on several grounds. One of their contentions is that the state government is not the “appropriate government” as defined in The Right To Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, in short Land Acquisition Act, 2013.
They have argued that since the land will be acquired in more than one state including Gujarat, Maharashtra and union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, the appropriate government is the central government and not the state.
The Railway ministry’s affidavit states that centre with Gujarat and Maharashtra governments formed “National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited” (NHSRCL) with “equity participation of Government of India (@50%), Government of Maharashtra (@25%) and Government of Gujarat (@25%)” to execute the project. It further states that the central government in March, 2017 informed the Gujarat government that bullet train project was being implemented, which will pass through eight districts of the state. The Gujarat government was directed by the Centre to appoint land acquisition officers accordingly. The state followed the instructions and appointed the officers and this notification was issued on April this year.
Therefore, the affidavit states, the “appropriate government is Gujarat government.” The affidavit, then, informs that under article 258(1) of the constitution, the president of India has power to “entrust any functions coming within the purview of the union to the state government or its officers, with the consent of the concerned state government.”
It said: “In exercise of the power conferred under the article 258 (1) of the Constitution, President of India, with the consent of Government of Gujarat, has issued notification S.O5181 (E) dated 08/10/2018 “entrusting the functions of the Central Government as appropriate Government…”
The petitioner farmers have also challenged the acquisition process on the ground that land rates have not been revised and provision of social impact assessment has also been done away with in the process. They said that the state government has tweaked the principal act of 2013 which is illegal.