Apex court observed that Centre has power to notify any land for acquisition for a new national highway:
Apex court while upholding the notifications for land acquisition for the Chennai-Salem eight-lane expressway, held that the Parliament has legislative competence to make a law for acquisition of “any land” for building or construction of a new highway.
Issue raised in these case was about the legislative competence of the Parliament to enact a law for declaring open greenfield lands as national highway. The contention was that only the State legislature is competent to make a law for construction of new roads traversing through the open green fields, where no road exists and only in case of an existing road/highway, would the Central Government have 52 power to declare it as a national highway. Referring to Entry 13 of List II (State List) and Entry 23 of List I (Central list) of the Seventh Schedule, it was contended that the Central Government had no power to invoke Section 2(2) of the 1956 Act, as it merely enables the Central Government to declare an existing highway to be a national highway.
While hearing the case, the bench consisting of Justice AM Khanwilkar observed that the fact that Entry 13 of List II bestows exclusive power upon the legislature of any State concerning subject “roads”, cannot be the basis to give restricted meaning to Entry 23 in List I, dealing with all matters concerning “national highways”
“Entry 23 in List I refers generally to “highways” declared or to be declared by the Parliament as national highways and all matters connected therewith. This empowers the Parliament to declare any stretch/section across any State as a highway for being designated as a national highway. There is no indication in the Constitution to limit the exercise of that power of the Parliament only in respect of an existing “highway”. Further, whenever and wherever the question of legislative competence is raised, the test is whether the law enacted, examined as a whole, is substantially with respect to the particular topic of legislation falling under the concerned list. If the law made by the Parliament or the legislature of any State has a substantial and not merely a remote connection with the Entry under which it is made, there is nothing to preclude the concerned legislature to make law on all matters concerning the topic covered under the Union List or the State List, as the case may be”
Second issue whether the 1956 Act is a law ascribable to Entry 23 of the Union List and it provides for the construction of a national highway on a non existing road/highway traversing through greenfield lands, the bench, also comprising of Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari observed that the Act does not constrict the power of the Central Government to notify any stretch/section (not being an existing road/highway) within any State, to be a national highway.
“A priori, the Central Government is free to construct/build a new national highway keeping in mind the obligations it has to discharge under Part IV of the Constitution for securing a social order and promotion of welfare of the people in the concerned region, to provide them adequate means of livelihood, distribute material resources as best to subserve the common good, create new opportunities, so as to empower the people of that area including provisioning new economic opportunities in the area through which the national highway would pass and the country’s economy as a whole. The availability of a highway in any part of the State paves way for sustainable development and for overall enhancement of human wellbeing including to facilitate the habitants thereat to enjoy a decent quality of life, creation of assets (due to natural increase in market value of their properties) and to fulfil their aspirations of good life by provisioning access to newer and presentday opportunities.”
Further the court rejected the challenge on the ground of lack of legislative competence and observed that On close examination, the 1956 Act, as amended and applicable to the present case, is an Act to authorise Central Government to declare the notified stretches/sections in the State concerned as a highway to be a national highway; and for matters connected therewith including acquisition of “any land” for building or construction of a new highway (which need not be an existing road/highway). The substance of this Act is ascribable to Entry 23 of the Union List and matters connected therewith.