The Madras High Court on Tuesday said that landowners need not be physically dispossessed from their properties for acquisition for the Chennai-Salem expressway project until further orders, The Hindu reported. A petitioner had accused the state government of using police force to evict farmers to acquire land for the proposed 227-km eight-lane expressway.

This came more than a month after it refused to pass an interim order restraining the Tamil Nadu government from acquiring land.

The Rs 10,000-crore expressway project has faced massive opposition, especially from farmers, as thousands of hectares of agricultural land and several hectares of forest land – cutting across five districts and eight reserved forests – have to be acquired.

On June 28, the High Court issued notices to the Centre and the state government on a plea against the land acquisition, filed by the non-profit Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of earth). The plea said the authorities had started the acquisition process under the National Highways Act, 1956, without receiving objections from those likely to be affected by it.

The plea also sought that Section 105 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, be struck down. The petitioners said that while the legislation envisages a humane process of land acquisition, Section 105 allows the government to not acquire land for some uses in this manner – for example, land acquired under the National Highway Act. Section 105 “perpetuates discriminatory treatment” of land-owners, and should be declared null and void, the petitioners reasoned.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami has claimed that only a minuscule percentage of farmers are opposed to the acquisition of land for the project.

Corrections and Clarifications: An earlier version of the story said that the court had stayed the acquisition of land for the expressway project.