Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project: SC Dismisses Plea By Godrej & Boyce Challenging Bombay HC Order On Land Acquisition

The Supreme Court today (Feb 24) refused to entertain a plea by Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company Ltd challenging the Bombay High Court order which upheld the acquisition of its land for the under-construction Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.

The company and Maharashtra government have been embroiled in a legal dispute over acquisition of the company-owned land in Vikhroli area of Mumbai for the bullet train project since 2019. The state government and the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) had claimed the company was delaying the entire project which was of public importance.

A three-judge bench presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud described it a “national project” and added that it will give the company liberty to seek enhancement of compensation for the land acquired.

Appearing for NHSRCL, the executing agency for the project, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the bench that the dispute was over the amount of compensation and not land acquisition. He noted that any further delay will cause further escalation in the project cost.

The SC bench pointed out that possession of the land has been completed and construction has commenced. It reminded the petitioner is a responsible company.

The company approached the SC after the Bombay High Court on Feb 9 dismissed a petition filed by the company challenging acquisition proceedings initiated by the Maharashtra government and the NHSRCL in Mumbai’s Vikhroli area for the project.

The Mumbai HC division bench termed the project was one-of-its-kind and collective interest would prevail over private interest.

”In our view the bullet train project is an infrastructural project of national importance, a large numbers of public would be benefited and would have saved other benefits for betterment of this country,” the court noted .

Of the total 508.17 kilometres 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 in Vikhroli (owned by Godrej).

During the case proceedings, the state government had earlier informed the court it has already deposited the compensation amount of Rs 264 crore awarded to the company in October last year.

The Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd had filed a petition challenging an order of September 15, 2022 passed by the Maharashtra government awarding compensation to it for land acquisition for the bullet train project.

It had termed the land acquisition proceedings initiated by the state government as ”unlawful” and claimed there were ”multiple and patent illegalities” in the same.

The HC bench, however, said it has not found any illegality in the compensation or proceedings initiated by the authorities. ”We have not found any illegality in the compensation,” it said.

The company has not made out a case for the court to exercise its powers and, hence, no interference is required, it added.

The HC bench, in its judgment, said the provisions of the Fair Compensation Act empowers the government to take the acquisition proceedings already initiated to its logical conclusion.

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.

India’s First Bullet Train Project

Presently, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail is the only sanctioned high-speed rail project in the country.

The High-Speed Rail operating at 320 kmph will traverse along west India’s landscape, covering 508.17 km distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in just about two hours.

This will save time compared to current travel time between the two terminal stations by about nine hours (by bus) or six hours (by conventional railways).

It will cover 155.76 km in Maharashtra, 4.3 km in the Union Territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and 348.04 km in Gujarat, with 12 stations en-route.

During the journey, the train will halt at 10 cities — Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati.

According to the report prepared by NHSRCL and submitted to the Railways, the overall physical progress is 25.63 per cent as against the target of 30.06 per cent till January 2023, a shortfall of 4.43 per cent.

With the target shortfall of over 4 per cent, it would be tough to meet the August 2027 target to make the over 300-km-long route operational in Gujarat.

Since the project is much behind the schedule in Maharashtra, the Railways is exploring possibilities to make the Gujarat portion operational by 2027.