Vindicating the stance of farmers and Tamil Nadu residents that the Salem Chennai 8-lane Expressway was arbitrarily conceived and being forcibly pushed through, a division bench of the Madras High Court set aside the forcible land acquisition for Modi's prestigious Bharatmala project in the state. The project was first announced at a press meeting addressed by Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari and Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy in February 2018. Protests erupted almost overnight against the greenfield highway that threatened to run through fertile farmlands, water bodies and forests.
Protesters pointed out that the project's viability was not established, that the Feasibility Report was replete with plagiarised content and falsehoods and that the project itself was conceived and pushed through in a hurry and in violation of established norms. Due diligence required for a project this size – Rs. 10,000 crore – was given a go-by. Reflecting a growing sentiment among a broad section of people that sees agrarian culture as central to a Tamil identity, the protests against the Expressway once again saw widespread mobilisation. It is noteworthy that even the die-hard industrialist party DMK has spoken against the Expressway in its manifesto.
The judgement delivered by Justice T.S. Sivagnanam and Bhavani Subbaroyan is significant not only in that it finds merit in many allegations of the petitioners, but also because it makes certain important observations about agriculture, environmental interests versus economic growth, human animal conflicts and the growing trend of police high-handedness in response to public protests.