The Outer Ring Road comes under the Capital Region Development Project (CRDP) of the government of Kerala.

A number of people, mostly women sit in chairs in an open areaA protest against ring road in Thekkada junction
news Protest Sunday, December 26, 2021 - 20:11

On the evening of December 12, around 200 people including men, women, and children gathered at Thekkada junction of Thiruvananthapuram district, Kerala. Syamala, Fatima, and Radha, were among the women who were signing a petition paper that was being passed around among the public. "We will soon lose our house and property where we were born and brought up. We are not sure whether this petition will help, but we have gathered here at least to get some idea about what is happening around us," Radha shared her concern.

It was only a while ago the people around heard that their little village would turn into a hub where large container trucks (that come to Vizhinjam port) would be parked, and where huge business establishments were being planned. They also fear that a proposed Outer Ring Road (ORR) would displace them, and cause them to lose their properties.

At the meeting on Thekkada junction, there were people's representatives, environmentalists, and local leaders. The gathering was just one of the meetings organised by the hundreds of local people who reside along proposed ORR, from Parippally in Kollam, passing through Andoorkonam, Vattappara, Aruvikkara, Ooruttambalam, Balaramapuram, and the NH 66 bypass at Vizhinjam in Thiruvananthapuram.

This ORR comes under the Capital Region Development Project (CRDP) by the government of Kerala, which received the Union governmentā€™s in-principle approval in 2019. Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the southern portion of the proposed road was done by L&T Infra Engineering company and has been submitted to the state government. Since 2018, there were reports that there is another town upcoming in the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram city under CRDP. But the exact idea was not clear. Recently, the ESIA was submitted which has exact mappings of where a new road and other infrastructure will come.

"One of the most important areas of improvement under CRDP Phase II is ā€˜Development of an Outer Ring Road projectā€™. In this proposal, a 77.773 km-long four-lane (expandable up to six lanes) highway is the principal project component being planned, along with designated planned development zones in the outer area at select locations earmarked for Special Investment Region (SIR)," the ESIA report says about the project.

Apart from that, there is a plan to acquire land to create a business hub in Thekkada. "It is necessary to upgrade the road infrastructure in these areas and also create suitable logistic hubs to cater to the parking and goods handling (Container Freight Station-CFS/ Inland Container Depots-ICD) requirements of the [Vizhinjam] port-bound traffic. The economic activity in the peripheral regions along other state highways is constrained due to inadequate support infrastructure," the report says.

The ORR will pass through 14 panchayats in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts. There are houses, agricultural land, temples, and mosques that have to be vacated for the construction of this road project. The ESIA report has mentioned a few households, business establishments, and worship centers, the owners of which, the report claims, are ready to vacate the land if proper compensation is given.

Residentsā€™ fears not considered

Many action councils were formed by local residents at different places, worried that they were not getting information properly. When TNM contacted a few officials, they said that nothing is yet decided on the project. But according to a few sources, the project has been finalised, and the initial procedures, including feasibility study and meeting with locals, have been started.

A hearing of local people was held in Thiruvananthapuram Collectorate on November 5. Around 250 people participated where they expressed their fear of displacement. "At the beginning itself, officials told us not to speak about displacement or land acquisition. They asked us to share if there is any environmental issue in the area. Obviously, there will be environmental impact and people will be affected. But they did not listen," said Santhosh, a local resident of Thekkada.

Fears of displacement

Many who gathered for the protest meeting on December 12 recalled the situation of Moolampilly evictees, who were evicted for the construction of International Container Transshipment Terminal, in Vallarpadam, Ernakulam. They faced over a decade-long fight for proper compensation and the land allotted to them was marshy and they couldn't live there. There were reports recently that a few families still struggle to construct homes as they did not have a road to their properties. 

"We will see a repeat of Vallarpadam here. In Thekkada alone, more than 100 families will be evicted. They (authorities) say just 60 houses are affected, but that is false. They (ESIA) did a fake survey and estimated that the loss will not be huge,ā€ alleged A Vijayan, the protest action councilā€™s convenor. ā€œBut many houses, business establishments, fields, and places of worship will be gone. They might give compensation but where will we all go leaving the land we were born," he added.

The locals said that there is no way environmental clearance can be given, as there are a lot of streams and water sources in the area which will be affected when a business hub is built in Thekkada. "Additionally, their hidden agenda is to quarry the rocks in this area after acquiring land," a local resident, who is also a government official, alleged.

M Shajar Khan, a senior leader of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), told TNM that no proper survey has been done yet to estimate losses for the people. "They just did the aerial survey and claim very few people will be affected. But in reality, will be evicted. The government should rethink this project. There is already a National Highway; maybe they can think of widening it or developing it in other ways rather than causing more destruction with a new project," he added.