Discretion Left Upon Experts Of NHAI: Punjab & Haryana HC Rejects Prayer Of Villagers For Providing Underpass
The Punjab and Haryana High Court at Chandigarh while deciding a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution in a matter related to the widening of the National Highways rejected the prayer of the landowners or residents of the village for providing the underpass and categorically held –
(i) The residents of the villages adjacent to the National Highway may only claim a right to access on either side.
(ii) Such a demand cannot be extended to vest a right in favour of the residents for access from the points of their choice.
(iii) Discretion has to be left to the planners i.e., experts of the NHAI.
A Single Bench of Justice Vinod S. Bhardwaj was dealing with a petition seeking issuance of a writ of mandamus directing the NHAI i.e., National Highways Authority of India to provide underpass access for ingress and egress for the residents of a village situated on both sides of the National Highway No.1. The Bench observed –
"It cannot be disputed that the projects of constructions of Highways and widening/augmentation of the infrastructure in the Country is the field of experts. It comprises of persons having vast knowledge and expertise in the field of development and maintenance of the Highways. Once the project study has been completed along with the viability and feasibility of any such demand being catered to and having not been found feasible by the experts, such view of the experts should not be ordinarily interfered with by the High Court in exercise of its powers of judicial review under Articles 226/227 of the Constitution of India."
Advocate M.S. Sidhu appeared for the petitioners while Advocate Bharat Bhushan Sharma represented the respondents.
In the present case, the respondent i.e., the NHAI had undertaken the work of widening the National Highways, and accordingly, the bridges and flyovers were constructed. The village belonging to the petitioners is situated between the two towns on NH-1 and due to such construction, the population of the village has been divided into both sides of the National Highway. As a result, people have to travel on either side on daily basis and there is a continuous flow of traffic on the main highway while a slow carriageway is required to be used by the villagers. This has led to endangering the lives of villagers and commuters and it has become difficult to cross the Highway for everyday routine work. The matter was therefore before the High Court.
The High Court while considering the facts of the case noted –
"It is evident that location of the villages is between 297 kms to 304 Kms of NHAI and within the aforesaid distance, there are as many as 07 different crossings of vehicles and pedestrian prescribed for. … A report from the Surveyor was also called for on 23.03.2015 wherein even the Surveyor has said that it was not feasible to recommend any additional provision/proposal or structures on the aforesaid Highway which is already complete. … There is no material to controvert the stand adopted by the NHAI to be an incorrect representation or that it is technically possible to provide an additional underpass."
The Court further noted that the projects of construction of highways comprise persons having vast knowledge and expertise in the field of development and maintenance of highways and once the project study has been completed, the view of the experts should not be ordinarily interfered with by the High Court through the power of judicial review.
The Court, therefore, held that "Any interference at any later stages is likely to have serious implications not only in due execution of the projects but also in escalation of the cost of the project and thus drain of public exchequer. Convenience cannot be equated as conferring a right. Hence, merely because the petitioners are inconvenied in travelling to the other side of the National Highway, cannot be equated to denying access and form the basis for directing the NHAI to provide an additional underpass at the place as designated by the petitioners. Any such, undue indulgence has a cascading effect of similar demand being raised at multiple points on the NHAI and thus defeating the very object of developing the Highway Projects. Even otherwise, the survey reports take all aspects into consideration and road safety has to be duly taken into consideration."
The Court, at last, concluded that it did not find any violation of the vested legal or fundamental rights of the petitioners.
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the petition.
Cause Title – Jatinder Singh and others v. Union of India and others