The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Centre to go ahead with the acquisition of land for the Rs 10,000-crore Chennai-Salem National Highway project, Bar and Bench reported.

The court also said that the government was “fully competent” to notify “any land (not necessarily an existing road/highway) for acquisition”, with the purpose of building a highway, according to The Indian Express.

The Supreme Court’s order was based on a petition filed by the Centre and the National Highway Authority of India against the Madras High Court’s judgement from 2019. The High Court had said that the notifications were “illegal and bad in law”, PTI reported.

A bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, AM Khanwilkar and Krishna Murari observed that there was no provision in the Constitution to restrict the Parliament from making a law for “declaring any stretch/section within the State not being a road or an existing highway, to be a national highway”, according to The Indian Express.

The bench said that the Centre was free to build new national highways, but it had to keep its obligation of promoting the welfare of the people and creating new opportunities. “The availability of a highway in any part of the state paves way for sustainable development and for overall enhancement of human well-being,” the court said.

The Supreme Court bench added that national highways were the “arteries of India’s economy”, according to The Hindu.

Also read: Despite court order, Tamil Nadu government is flouting land acquisition law for highway project

In May 2019, the Centre had moved the Supreme Court against the Madras High Court’s order quashing the land acquisition process for the project. The High Court bench had said that the project would adversely affect the environment and surrounding water bodies. It added that an environmental clearance from the Union government was mandatory. The order followed a host of petitions, challenging the land acquisition, filed by 35 owners and Pattali Makkal Katchi leader Anbumani Ramadoss.

The Chennai-Salem highway is an eight-lane greenfield project that would connect the two cities under the Centre’s “Bharatmala Pariyojna” scheme. It aims to cut travel time between Salem and Chennai to about two hours and 15 minutes. However, the project has seen opposition from a section of locals and farmers who fear loss of land. Environmentalists have also advocated against the project due to its ecological impact.