Godrej Group Creating Unnecessary Hurdles In Land Acquisition For Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train Project: Maha Govt to HC

The Maharashtra government on Tuesday (Oct 18) told the Bombay High Court that Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd had left no stone unturned to create unnecessary hurdles for acquisition of land, owned by the company, for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project.

A division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Sharmila Deshmukh was hearing a petition filed by Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd challenging an order of September 15, 2022 passed by the state government awarding compensation to it for land acquisition for the project. Godrej group is Mumbai’s largest private landowner.

The company, in their petition, sought that the high court direct the state government to not start the process of awarding compensation and initiate possession proceedings.

The state government, in its affidavit filed by deputy collector (land acquisition) Jagatsing Girase, termed the company’s allegations as “frivolous, baseless, unwarranted and unsubstantiated”.

It also informed the court that the acquiring body of the state government has already deposited a sum of around Rs 264 crore towards compensation on October 17.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the state government, told the bench that as on date no notice for taking possession of the land has been issued.

The court then posted the matter for further hearing on November 10 and said if and when such a notice was issued, it would grant the petitioner company reasonable time to approach the court.

The state government also alleged that the company had “left no stone unturned to create unnecessary hurdles and impediments at every stage of the acquisition proceedings to ensure that the same lapse”.

“The respondent authorities are making every effort to ensure that the project does not face hurdles from private persons and even catered to the whims and fancies of the petitioner company. Yet, the petitioner’s unreasonable demands are ever increasing and changing as per their caprice and this has led to escalation of the cost of the project approximately by more than Rs 1,000 crore,” the affidavit stated.

In its affidavit, the state government emphasised on the importance of the bullet train project and said the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail corridor project is a priority project for the Government of India.

“It will be India’s first high speed rail line and shall transform the passenger transport system of the country with state-of-the-art technology for the benefit of the public at large,” it said, adding that once functional, the train would serve 17,900 passengers every day.

“The total cost of the project is at about Rs 1 lakh crore. The project is a highly specialised and technical project of enormous high value and is required to be completed within the specified stringent timelines,” the affidavit said.

The state government further cited that several negotiations were held to arrive at an amicable resolution for acquisition of land, but when these failed, the government was left with no alternative but to proceed with the acquisition of the alternate land identified and owned by the company.

The company and the government have been embroiled in a legal dispute since 2019 over acquisition of the company-owned land in suburban Vikhroli for the bullet train project.

Of the total 508.17 km of rail track between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, about 21 km is planned to be underground. One of the entry points to the underground tunnel falls on the land at Vikhroli (owned by Godrej). 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.

This will be the country’s first bullet train and will run at a maximum speed of 350 km per hour, covering the stretch between the two cities in under three hours from the usual seven hours.

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.