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Maha: Bombay HC says bullet train project of ‘national importance’, junks Godrej plea (Ld)

Mumbai, Feb 9 (IANS) Declaring that the upcoming Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project is of ‘national importance’, the Bombay High Court on Thursday dismissed a plea of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co. challenging the acquisition of its land in Vikhroli.

The verdict by a division bench of Justices R.D. Dhanuka and Justice M.M. Sathaye said: “The project is of national importance and public interest… No interference is required. No illegality found in the compensation.”

The judgement signalling a green flag comes as a breather for the mega-project on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Mumbai on Friday.

Justices Dhanuka and Sathaye also said that it is the paramount collective interest that would prevail and not private interest “Project would be first of its kind. Petition is dismissed”.

When Godrej group’s counsel, Senior Advocate Navroz Seervai sought a stay on the order to enable them appeal in the Supreme Court, the high court refused to entertain the plea.

Opposing, the state’s Advocate-General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the land acquisition for the project was completed except for the stretch owned by Godrej group, and pleaded that the company’s plea should be dismissed.

Additional Solicitor-General Anil Singh argued that the entire land acquisition in Gujarat was complete and the (project) work had started, while in Maharashtra, 3 per cent of the acquisition was remaining to be done.

He contended that the Godrej petition was delaying the project and led to cost escalations, and if the compensation amount was a concern, then a higher payout could be considered, but the project could not be made to suffer more.

For the past four years since August 2019, the government and the Godrej group have been squabbling over the acquisition of the company’s land for what is billed as Modi’s pet project coming up with Japanese collaboration.

Slated to cost around Rs 1.60 Lakh-Crore, the bullet train project will be 508 kms long, including 21 kms running underground and one of the entry points to the subterranean tunnel will fall on the land owned by Godrej in Vikhroli which was taken over by the government.

After the acquisition of around 9.69 acres of its land, Godrej group had challenged the compensation of Rs. 264 crore awarded by the Deputy Collector in Sep. 2022, claiming it was a fraction of the original offer of Rs 572 crore, and how there were multiple and patent illegalities in the entire process.

The company had also challenged the August 2019 notification under the Right To Fair Compensation and Transparency In Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and the constitutional validity of certain sections, which has been upheld by the high court.