Bullet Train Project Faces Fresh Legal Challenge From Godrej Group, Mumbai’s Biggest Landlord. And This Time It Is Over Compensation For Land Acquisition.

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday (Oct 11) permitted Godrej group, the city’s largest private landowner, to challenge the compensation of Rs. 264 crores awarded by the state authorities for acquiring 10 hectares of land (24 acres) in Vikhroli from the group for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train project.

Earlier last month, the Maharashtra government fixed a compensation of Rs 264 crore to acquire land belonging to Godrej for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor project.

The conglomerate is seeking to nullify the compensation award on the ground that it is time-barred. Godrej has argued that the last hearing was held in July 2020, and 26 months have passed.

The state government sought the HC approval to expeditiously deposit the compensation amount in court so that the project can proceed in ‘public interest’. The state government cited a delay of almost four years in the project due to litigation by Godrej.

The application filed by the government before the division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sharmila Deshmukh requested that they be allowed to deposit the compensation as “delay is resulting in loss of approximately Rs4,34,421 per day towards the interest”.

“The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corridor is the priority project of the Government of India undertaken by the NHSRCL, a government company set up under the Ministry of Railways, in partnership with Maharashtra and Gujarat governments.” the state government stated in its application.

The application filed by Godrej sought to prevent the state government from implementing the acquisition award. It also asked the HC to amend its petition filed in 2018 challenging the acquisition. It now seeks to challenge the compensation awarded, which has been allowed by the court.

In July 2018, the Godrej Group moved the Bombay High Court challenging the proposed acquisition of its prime property in suburban Vikhroli for the government’s ambitious bullet train project between Ahmedabad and the metropolis.

“It is apparent that the entire proceedings for the acquisition of the plot have undisputedly lapsed in terms of Section 25 of the fair Compensation Act and hence the purported award is a nullity and void ab initio”, Godrej group argued in its application.

The state government and Godrej group have been embroiled in a protracted legal dispute over ownership of over 3,000 acres of land since 1973. The group owns 3,400 acres of land in Mumbai, the country’s most expensive property market. Over 3,000 acres of this land is in Vikhroli.

Group founder Pirojsha Godrej purchased the land from the British during the Second World War for Rs 30 lakh. He subsequently bought about 400 acres more, taking the total to 3400 acres. The land, however, includes nearly 1800 acres of mangroves, which cannot be developed due to ecological issues.

Of the 508 km bullet train track between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, 21 km will be in Mumbai, all underground. The Godrej land is where the train will enter the tunnel. The land will be used for ventilation ducts.