Months after the proposed Chennai-Salem expressway caused a furore in the state between the government and farmers whose lands are being surveyed for implementing the project, the National Highways Authority of India has re-drafted its plans.
Notably, the amendment mentions a change in forest length from 13.290 km to approximately 9.0 km. The amendment states that the forest area that would be covered by the project is also reduced from 120 hectares to 45 hectares.
A revised project proposal submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) envisages changes in the original Terms of Reference submitted to the MoEF.
The 277.3 km-long highway has de-scoped (knocked off) the original spur roads through which it was to pass. These are: Chengalpattu to Kancheepuram Section of NH-132B, Semmampadi to Chetpet Section of NH-179D and Polur to Tiruvannamalai Section of NH-38.
While the total length of the project remains the same, the amendment states, “To avoid diversion of Reserve Forest area and minimisation of resettlement impacts; alignment was slightly modified without change in length.”
While the original Right of Way according to the pre-feasibility report of the project is mentioned to be between 90m and 120m in rural section and 120m for rural sections passing through semi-urban area, the amended right of way is 70m is non-forest area and 50m in forest area.
The amendment states that right of way was reduced in order to avoid the severity of the impact.
The report states, “Diversion of Forest area substantially reduced by constraining RoW (right of way) to 50m and minor shift in alignment at possible locations without compromising geometrics.”
According to the initial pre-feasibility report, stretches of the project were to pass through 11 reserved forests in the main alignment i.e. Chennai-Salem and one in Thiruvannamalai Spur. These include Siruvanjur, Nambedu, Alialamangalam, Anandavadi, Ravandavadi, Manjavadi ghat and Pallipatti extension, Jarugumalai and Sorakolathur.
The project falls under Bharatmala Pariyojana, a centrally-sponsored and funded road and highways project. The project has caused a stand-off between the government and villagers, activists and environmentalists. Speaking out against the project has also led to the detention and arrest of farmers and activists.
Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has claimed that the project ‘reduces traffic time from 6 hours to 3 hours' between Chennai and Salem. This claim has been contested by residents as three existing routes ply between the two districts.