A ‘green highway’ that cuts through forests, hills

A ‘green highway’ that cuts through forests, hills

People from Kuppanur and nearby villages discuss the impact of the Salem-Chennai Expressway project. DH Photo/ETB Sivapriyan
Expressway will begin from Tambaram in Chennai and end in Salem
Will take a new route from the existing main highway
Will reduce travel time from six hours to three
Will have six/eight lanes with access-control
Cost Rs 10,000 crore
Will pass through five districts - Salem, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram

Septuagenarian Sevatharajan and his large family have always lived close to nature in the middle of their farm that has coconut, tamarind and betel nut trees in Kuppanur, a nondescript village 15 km from Salem.

The 74-year-old is now a disturbed man. He is apprehensive that his family of 15 would be rendered homeless and may be evicted from their farm.

His fears are not unfounded as the government is planning to build a 277.3-km Green Corridor Express Highway connecting Salem with Chennai, cutting through thousands of acres of farm and forest land, hills and rivers spread across 159 villages.

“The so-called green corridor highway passes through my 4-acre farm. This simply means that the government wants to throw all of us out of our homes and construct a road which none wants. Why should we part with our land?” Sevatharajan asked.

“My farm has 570 coconut trees and my village would lose nearly 7,000 to 8,000 trees. Imagine the number of trees that would be uprooted due to this project,” his son Moorthy told DH. Kuppanur would lose 100 acres of farmland if the project sees the light of the day.

“All along the corridor, it is only farm and forest land and mountains that would be severely affected. If the road indeed comes up, it can only be a drought highway, not a green highway,” said Kandasamy, another villager.

Farmers in Kuppanur, Kullampatti, Uthamacholapuram, Poolaveri, Nilavarapatti, Sarugamalai, Varagambadi, a traditional mango belt, and Ramalingapuram are up in arms against the project and allege that the proposed road would take away almost 1,000 acres of farmland in Salem district.

Another worry is that it would be very difficult for the public to access the highway since it will follow closed toll policy. They also question why the government is hell-bent on building another highway by cutting through farmlands when three routes already exist.

The proposed highway, as part of the Centre’s Bharatmala project, will be built by acquiring nearly 7,500 acres of land spread across five districts of Salem, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram.

Time for completion: Approximately two years
Land required: 7,500 acres
Hills/forests affected: 8
Villages affected: 159

Environmentalist Piyush Manush said the project would affect 120 hectares of forest land and cause irreversible damage to eight reserve forests.

“The highway is proposed to begin from Uthamacholapuram in Salem and it comes out of the hills through Harur which is 35 km away. All along the proposed route, forest land and hills would be affected that will have a cascading effect on the environment,” Manush said.

Vetrivel, 24, whose family own 6 acres of land - 3.5 acres of which are proposed to be acquired - works in a two-wheeler showroom in Salem. But, the youngster does not want to leave the farm and settle away from his village, Kullampatti.

Thangavelu, another farmer, said if evicted, he would only get between Rs 12 and Rs 15 lakh since the government was offering only Rs 4 to Rs 5 lakh per acre as compensation.

“What do we do with that money? Will all of us be able to rebuild our lives in a new place?” asked Vetrivel.