Mak­ing of a ‘green’ high­way

Nearly 70 per cent of the land re­quired for the ex­press­way is fer­tile farm­land.

FrontLine - - NATURAL DISASTER - BY ILANGOVAN RAJASEKARAN

THE De­tailed Pro­ject Re­port (DPR) of the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment says that the Rs.10,000-crore, 277.30-kilo­me­tre-long, eight-lane ex­press­way would halve the travel time from Chen­nai to Salem to two and a half hours, re­sult­ing in sav­ings of fuel, es­pe­cially diesel, to the tune of 2.45 lakh litres, or Rs.700 crore, an­nu­ally.

The to­pog­ra­phy, it says, con­sists of pre­dom­i­nantly agri­cul­tural land, hav­ing high pro­duc­tiv­ity of rice, su­gar cane, maize, pulses, ground­nuts, man­goes, co­conuts and flow­ers such as jas­mine. Mega in­dus­tries are not many, but there is a sprin­kling of small and medium in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial en­ter­prises. Nearly 70 per cent of the land ac­quired for the pro­ject would be fer­tile farm­land, with in­ter­mit­tent built-up ar­eas, “though a few acres of forests lands... also would be an­nexed”.

The DPR points out that the align­ment of the pro­ject has max­i­mum width of 90 me­tres and a min­i­mum width of 70 me­tres. It is de­signed for speeds up to 120 kilo­me­tres per hour, with a 6/8-lane con­trolled ac­cess. It crosses five na­tional high­ways (NHS) and 10 State high­ways (SHS), con­nect­ing ma­jor towns such as Tiru­van­na­malai and Kancheep­u­ram through “spur” roads. The pro­ject is de­signed to link in­dus­trial ar­eas and spe­cial eco­nomic zones (SEZS) lo­cated in Chen­nai, Tiru­van­na­malai, Kancheep­u­ram, Dharma­puri, Kr­ish­na­giri and Salem dis­tricts. The Na­tional High­ways Au­thor­ity of In­dia (NHAI) says that the road will go through fringes of forests for 6 km, of which 3 km would be a tun­nel in Salem dis­trict. The cor­ri­dor will have nine en­try and exit points.

The re­port says that land to be ac­quired in­cludes vast tracts of fer­tile land, res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties and com­mer­cial es­tab­lish­ments. The ar­eas through which the road would cut through have re­mained by and large undis­turbed for long, with an eclec­tic mix of mod­ern and tra­di­tional liveli­hoods, though agri­cul­ture forms the core.

EX­TENT OF LAND AC­QUI­SI­TION

Chief Min­is­ter Edap­padi K. Palaniswami, while re­ply­ing to a Call At­ten­tion mo­tion on the floor of the Tamil Nadu Assem­bly on June 11, said the pro­posed cor­ri­dor would re­quire 1,900 hectares of land, of which 400 hectares be­longed to gov­ern­ment “porom­boke” and an­other 49 hectares be­longed to the For­est Depart­ment. He stated that around three lakh saplings would be planted along the cor­ri­dor. But en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in­sist that com­pen­satory af­foresta­tion along high­ways in Tamil Nadu has not been suc­cess­ful.

The Ex­pert Ap­praisal Com­mit­tee (EAC) of the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, For­est and Cli­mate Change, which met in New Delhi on May 7, 2018, while ap­prov­ing the terms of ref­er­ence for the pro­ject, noted that the to­tal land ac­qui­si­tion for the align­ment was about 2,560 hectares. A to­tal of 6,400 trees would face the axe. The num­ber of tanks, ir­ri­ga­tion wells, ponds and other wa­ter­bod­ies that would be dis­turbed or de­stroyed for the pro­ject would be known only when the en­vi­ron­ment im­pact assess­ment (EIA) study on the pro­ject is com­pleted. But the EAC has in­structed the NHAI and the Tamil Nadu gov­ern­ment to avoid dis­turb­ing the eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive Kal­rayan Hill forests that fall within the am­bit of the pro­ject. It has also in­structed them to un­der­take a thor­ough assess­ment of the align­ment through wet­lands, in­clud­ing tanks and small reser­voirs, and its im­pact on local bio­di­ver­sity, wildlife cor­ri­dors, and so on.

The EAC asked the ex­ecu­tors to avoid any im­pact on local hy­drol­ogy. It noted that the land-use pat­tern 10 km on ei­ther side of the pro­ject was “pre­dom­i­nantly agri­cul­ture fol­lowed by habi­ta­tions and for­est ar­eas”. It in­sisted that a mit­i­ga­tion strat­egy be de­signed from a na­tion­ally recog­nised in­sti­tute. These con­di­tions are yet to be met, said en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who drew at­ten­tion to ver­dicts of the Supreme Court that in­structed the State gov­ern­ment not to con­vert or dis­turb wa­ter bod­ies on the pre­text of de­vel­op­ment.

The green­field ex­press­way is to cover 59.1 km in Kancheep­u­ram dis­trict, for which about 345 ha of land have to be pro­cured. It will run for 123.9 km in Tiru­van­na­malai dis­trict, for which nearly 1,200 ha of land would have to be ac­quired in the dis­trict. Kr­ish­na­giri will lose 45 ha for 2 km to the pro­ject, while in Dharma­puri the road is to tra­verse through 56 km, for which 298 ha of land will be ac­quired. Salem dis­trict would be los­ing around 406 ha of land for its 36.3 km share. These sta­tis­tics do not in­clude the spurs at Kancheep­u­ram, Chet­put and Tiru­van­na­malai that con­nect to the ex­press­way.

It de­fies com­pre­hen­sion how such a mas­sive pro­ject will source the ma­te­ri­als. In an af­fi­davit filed be­fore the Madras High Court, a pe­ti­tioner claimed that nearly 10,000 wells would be de­stroyed be­sides numer­ous streams, borewells, rivulets, tanks and ponds. Around 6,400 trees (es­ti­mated at one tree an acre, which ecol­o­gists dis­miss with con­tempt) are

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