This activist chained himself to a road-roller to protest flyover construction, jailed

Environmental activist Piyush Manush was questioning the construction of flyover in Salem
This activist chained himself to a road-roller to protest flyover construction, jailed
This activist chained himself to a road-roller to protest flyover construction, jailed

In a bid to quash the opacity and red tape involved in construction of Salem’s flyovers, activist Piyush Manush and members of the Salem Citizen’s forum took to the streets. he registered his protest not at a government office, or through a road roko. Instead, Manush chained himself to the road-roller along with two others as the first day of construction began for the Mulvadi bridge. They alleged that due procedure was not followed.

Swifter than ever, the police reached the spot and arrested them under three charges –  disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant, Punishment for wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement and criminal intimidation, a non-bailable offence.

The Mulvadi over-bridge will be built over a railway crossing, but with a road that only allows one-way traffic.

However, the Citizen’s Forum pushed for an alternative, a road over a parallel path, which will allow two-way traffic.

“The land acquisition process involving 50 home owners was not done in time and is a clear exploitation of those who live on these lands,” says Vijayan, one of many members of the Citizen’s forum who is irked at how the district officer allowed the construction. “They were served one notice, and the next day began construction. There was no buffer time, no information and certainly no enquiry done,” he rues. 

According to standard procedure, the landowners are first informed of the notice, which is later published in the newspaper and an enquiry is then conducted.

This enquiry however, will begin a month into the process. Monetary compensation based on this enquiry will be provided to landowners. Construction by the Southern Railways, however, has already begun and most of the money is being mobilised for the flyover. 

“This is not the first time this has happened. Leighbazaar, the first over-bridge constructed in Salem, took 4 years to complete and was held up by bureaucratic tactics. It was just two pillars for a very long time,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist and journalist who pledged his support for Piyush. The second over-bridge was the Anandha bridge, because of which officegoers, school children and ambulances were inconvenienced by a 3-4 km detour. As of now, the bridge stands half finished. 

Sanjay M, a real estate developer who is helping the Citizen’s forum to understand complexities of the issues says construction of the bridge will do harm to both the government and citizens.

“Salem Citizen's Forum demanded that the district authorities acquire land from private property owners lawfully before allowing the Southern Railways to construct an elevated bridge over the Mulvadi Gate Railway crossing.

The railways department usually constructs only the over-bridge over the track -- a concrete platform standing on two pillars all within the railway land. The Highways Department would need to construct the slopes leading up and down from the platform,” he says. 

TNM contacted the Divisional Revenue Officer for Salem district, who handles the construction of the bridge. “First, 70% of the land is poromboke land and the rest 30% is land owners. We have already served a notice to the people living on that land. We needed to begin construction as soon as possible because the elections had already delayed work and the cost is escalating,” he said. As for the question on conducting an enquiry before beginning construction, he said it was not necessary to conduct it before beginning construction. “We have sent notices. That is enough.”

He refused to answer a question on possible intervention to quash charges against Piyush. Many from the Citizen's forum said the meeting with the DRO soured a day before construction. 

Taking into account suggestions of the citizens for a better alternative was met with dismissal, “We have experts from transport, railways and construction on this issue. Do you think we don’t know what we are doing?” he asked. 

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