In a major embarrassment for the Tamil Nadu government and the Centre, the Madras High Court Monday quashed the land acquisition proceedings for the proposed Chennai-Salem greenfield corridor.
Reasons behind Madras HC quashing order
A special division bench of Justice T S Sivagnanam and Justice Bhavani Subbaroyan passed the order on the grounds that the project will have a huge impact on the environment and water bodies in the area. The court cited the failure of the state government in conducting a mandatory public hearing and not receiving prior environmental clearance from the Centre. It also based its judgment on major flaws in the project report submitted by a private consultant.
Legal setback and an irony
While the Salem-Chennai greenfield corridor was among the many such projects playing against the AIADMK-NDA alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the irony is that the HC order was based on a batch of petitions including one filed by PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss, who has recently joined the ruling party alliance for the Lok Sabha polls.
The court order comes at a time when the AIADMK led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami is heavily campaigning for Ramadoss, who is contesting from Dharmapuri constituency.
Specifications of greenfield highway project
The 277.300 km long, 8-lane highway project was proposed to connect Salem to Chennai. The highway passed through Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem districts, an agrarian region comprising reserved forest areas and several industrial zones. A feasibility study for the project pegged the total cost at Rs 9,106 crores and a tentative cost for rehabilitation and resettlement had been worked out to Rs 415 crores.
A letter from CM and Centre’s nod in a day
The project first came to light on February 25, 2018, in a letter written by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami to the Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping, Nitin Gadkari. The Centre gave its nod on the same day. “Considering the high traffic potential and importance of Salem city, I would like to suggest that a Green Express Way Corridor between Salem and Chennai cities be formed, that will substantially reduce the distance and save fuel.” The letter stated that “the new stretch will mostly involve drylands, wherein the cost of land acquisition may not be very high when compared to the benefits.”
While the state government had assumed that the cost of land acquisition may not be very high, Gadkari said that the highway will be 274 km long and the total budget will be around Rs 10,000 crore. The process for the green expressway was already on the track and instructions were given to call for tenders in two months.
Govt failed to convince people
There are three existing routes between Salem and Chennai: Ulundurpet to Chennai, Walajah to Chennai and the Chennai – Tiruvannamalai – Harur – Salem routes. While the government’s argument to justify the project idea was that the first two existing stretches are facing abnormal delay due to increasing traffic volume carrying over one lakh passenger car units a day, the government argued that the second stretch too may not reduce travel time even if a bypass route was introduced. He suggested that a direct Salem – Chennai highway may be the only solution to ease traffic and reduce the travel time.
A feasibility study report, which was scrapped by the HC on Monday, said the project is expected to generate development around the towns, employment opportunities to the local people along the stretch.
Meanwhile, as the court noted on Monday, farmers in the five districts complained that they were not consulted. They also feared that the project would destroy the most productive farmlands in Kancheepuram and Tiruvannamalai districts. The court order also raised questions about a vulnerable reserve forest stretch near the project alignment.
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