May 5, 2018

Fears over Chennai-Salem highway project

Below I have posted an abridged narrative recently appearing in The Hindu newspaper at this link here about the contentious proposed Chennai-Salem highway project. 

"The project to develop a six/eight-lane greenfield highway connecting Chennai and Salem has drawn flak from farmers and environment activists in Tiruvannamalai. They say a major portion of the corridor that runs through the district will end up destroying both agricultural land and forest areas. 

As per a pre-feasibility report, the proposed alignment for the access-controlled Chennai-Salem greenfield highway will start near the Chennai Outer Ring Road junction and pass through Kancheepuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem districts. This was part of the Central government’s scheme to develop economic corridors, inter corridors, feeder corridors and national corridors to improve the efficiency of freight movements in India under ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’. 

The highway is for a total distance of 277.3 km. It runs through Tiruvannamalai for an approximate length of 123.90 km, starting from Cheyyar to Neepathurai. 

Federation formed 
This project to be carried out by National Highways Authority of India is facing stiff opposition from farmers and environment activists in Tiruvannamalai district. Nearly 13 organisations, including farmers associations, a few political parties, advocates and environment-based NGOs, have joined hands to form a federation against the project. They have started reaching out to villagers and farmers who will be affected. 

“Nearly 92 villages will be affected if this highway project is implemented. Several thousand acres of agricultural lands and hundreds of farm wells will be affected. A major portion of this highway that is coming up at an estimated of Rs.11,000 crore will run through reserve forest areas,” said a representative of the Communist Party of India, Tiruvannamalai. 

No use for farmers 
Several lands in Cheyyar and Vandavasi will bear the maximum damage. “We have visited and surveyed 129 villages and have found that at least 600 to 750 agricultural wells that are being used now will be affected. We depend more on water in agricultural wells for irrigation here. Some farmers will lose at least eight to 10 acres of land each. This highway is going to be of no use for farmers or residents. It is to only facilitate mining and transportation of iron ore from Kavuthi and Vediyappan Hills in Tiruvannamalai and Kanjamalai in Salem.” A spokesman said. 

The project has revived the opposition that was registered against iron ore mining in Kavuthi and Vediyappan Hills during 2003, 2009 and 2014. “We do not want a road that will destroy forests, hills and agricultural lands. This project does not have many link roads for the benefit of public,” said an advocate and chief co-ordinator of the federation. 

The federation has approached villagers and have asked them to pass resolutions opposing the project during the ‘grama sabha’ and special ‘grama sabha’ meetings. According to a pre-feasibility report, part of the project stretch passes through five Reserve Forests in Tiruvannamalai. It has noted that the exact length of affected forest area will be calculated after a joint inspection with the Forest department. In fact, an official source said that one of the Reserve Forests—Ravandavadi Reserve Forest in Chengam Forest Range; has thick forest area. 

Clearance needed 
An official of the Forest Department said the proposed highway that passes through the five Reserrve Forests should get clearance under the Forest Conservation Act. 

“The project implementing agency should upload the details on the forest clearance website. Following this, the District Forest Officer will conduct an inspection and give remarks. It will go through several committees,” the official said. 

The largest stretch of the proposed highway is in Tiruvannamalai District.A special unit for land acquisition will be set up following which there will be public hearings where people can air their views."

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