Facing vociferous opposition to the ambitious project, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has effected major changes to the Chennai-Salem Green Express Corridor by bringing down the length of the road inside reserved forests and scrapping three spur roads.
By scrapping three spur roads that envisaged covering nearly 50 km along the 277-km corridor, and bringing down the forest area needed for building the world-class highway by two-thirds of the original plan, the NHAI has also brought down the cost of the project from Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 7,210 crore.
The changes have been made by the NHAI in its amended pre-feasibility project report, a copy of which has been accessed by DH, that has been submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The report has de-scoped three spur roads – Chengalpattu to Kancheepuram (30 km), Semmampadi to Chepet (4.7 km) and Polur to Tiruvannamalai (16 km).
The project, which was taken up by the NHAI under the Bharatmala scheme of the Union Government, envisages reducing the distance between Chennai to Salem by 68 km and the travel time by two hours.
However, there have been spontaneous protests against the implementation of the project across five districts, through which the proposed highway would pass, due to opposition from farmers, who opposed acquisition of their fertile farmlands.
Also, the initial report envisaged acquiring 13.29 km of reserved forest inside the Kalvarayan Hills in Salem district, However, due to protest from environmentalists and other sections, the NHAI has now reduced the distance to 9 km.
“Diversion of forest area substantially reduced by constraining RoW to 50 metres and a minor shift in alignment at possible locations without compromising geometrics,” the report by the NHAI says.
The report also said the alignment of the project was “slightly modified” without a change in length of the corridor to avoid “diversion of reserve forest area and minimisation of resettlement impacts.”
However, the organisation spearheading the opposition against the project is not too enthused with the changes. Arul Arumugam, Spokesperson of the Movement Against Eight Lane, told DH that there was nothing to rejoice in the new amended report by the NHAI.
“Our opposition to the eight-way lane between Chennai and Salem still stands and the amended alignment will no way help farmers. The highway is needless since there are three other routes connecting Chennai with Salem,” he said.
The 277.3-km Green Corridor Express Highway connecting Salem with Chennai is envisaged to be implemented by cutting through thousands of acres of farm and forest lands, mountains and rivers spread across 159 villages. It is likely to be built by acquiring nearly 7,500 acres of land spread across five districts of Salem, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram.
The highway project was recently in the news after Swaraj Abhiyan founder Prof Yogendra Yadav was arrested in Tiruvannamalai district on Saturday for trying to meet farmers who are set to lose their land to the project.