Salem-Chennai expressway corridor faces opposition over half-truths floated by vested groups. Here are the facts
Tamil Nadu has been among the states that is preferred by investors for various advantages it enjoys in setting up industries. It is one reason why Tamil Nadu has been able to attract a good volume of foreign investments all these years. But a perceived weakness in the state’s leadership is attributed to all kinds of protests against anything and everything by forces trying to make their presence felt. In their eagerness to assert themselves as leaders working for the people’s welfare, these forces are even scuttling projects that can benefit Tamil Nadu.
The forces are blindly opposing projects that are in proposal stage. The Rs 10,000 crore 274 km Salem-Chennai green expressway corridor is among the projects that is facing opposition. Unfortunately, slack intelligence gathering has resulted in these forces entering the villages and inciting the people there against the project. What has happened is these forces have floated a lot of half-truths, misleading statements and myths about the project that could turn out to be beneficial for the people of the state. Here then are the myths and facts about the project.
The expressway will be laid through villages and farms that could affect mango farms in Salem. A total of 2,300 hectares of land is required.
The expressway isn’t going to affect village and farms all through the 274-kilometre course it runs through. In fact, most of the land that the highway will run through are wastelands. Second, the government will need to acquire only 1,900 hectares for the highway. Of these, 400 hectares are irrigated lands, another 400 belongs to the government and the rest are the ones where farming is being carried out, partially.
For example, paddy is cultivated in over 1.15 lakh hectares in Thiruvannamalai, one of the districts through which the expressway will traverse. But the amount of farmland that is likely to be acquired in the district for the project will be less than one per cent of the area under paddy cultivation. And of these, some 100 hectares will likely be irrigated lands.
The expressway will be 900 feet wide.
The detailed project report (DPR) says the project’s maximum width will be 90 metres or a little more than 256 feet. The thumb rule is that the width of a four-lane highway is 23.5 m and that of a six-lane one is 43.6 m. The 90 m includes service roads.
The corridor alignment cuts through 22 km of reserve forests
The corridor has been realigned in such a way that less than 10 km cuts through reserve forests. This means the area through which the expressway would traverse isn’t any highly sensitive ecological zone or one inhabited by wildlife animals. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami told the Tamil Nadu Assembly on 11 June that the project cuts through only 9.9 km of reserve forest land, but those involved in its execution say it will actually be lower. The length of the expressway has been increased by 10 km since it was realigned to avoid affecting forest lands. Sources in the central government say the expressway will pass through only on the fringe of the forest and only for 6 km. Of this, 3 km will be a tunnel.
The project is being conceived to help only corporate firms and multi-nationals. It will result in high mining activity in the area. The Japanese will control the highway since the country is setting up an industrial park in the corridor.
The corridor is coming up because the Chennai-Bengaluru and Chennai-Madurai national highways are being used at nearly 150 per cent of their capacity. The talk of high mining is false because all such activities are monitored by the National Green Tribunals and courts. The Salem Steel Plant was set up to use iron ore that is available in the district. But its quality was found to be poor that the plant is importing coal from Orissa through Ennore port. The talk of magnesite mining isn’t correct because mining companies find bigger mines in eastern India. The Japanese industrial park is coming up at Mamallapuram and has got nothing to do with this corridor.
The corridor is unnecessary since the Chennai-Bengaluru and Chennai-Madurai national highways can be extended to accommodate increase in traffic.
The Chennai-Bengaluru National Highway is seeing some 60,000 PCU (passenger car units) traffic that is 20,000 more than its capacity. The Chennai-Madurai National Highway is seeing a traffic of 80,000-90,000 PCU against its capacity of 40,000. In the next 15 years, the traffic will increase to 2.1 times of what it is now.
These highways cannot handle such a high capacity of traffic and accidents are bound to increase due to this. Currently, 3,000 persons lose their lives and another 10,000 become handicapped due to accidents on these highways. The number will only rise.
The extension of these highways will mean demolishing nearly 20,000 houses on each highway, which is totally not feasible.
On the other hand, the corridor is being envisaged to decongest the Chennai-Bengaluru and Chennai-Madurai National Highways. Of the 1.40 lakh PCU now operating in both these highways, 60,000 are bound for the western districts like Erode, Tiruppur and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This underlines the importance and potential of the proposed project.
Hills on way from Salem to Chennai will be knocked down causing damage to environment and ecology.
None of the hills on the route will be damaged or brought down. Only a tunnel less than three km in length will be dug up in one of the hills near Salem. This is the perfect way to preserve ecology and ecosystem. Similar strategy has been adopted to construct highways to Jammu and Kashmir and other places in the world.
Actual time taken to travel from Salem to Chengalpattu is 2.5 hours and it takes an equal amount of time to travel from Chengalapattu to Chennai.
The expressway isn’t meant to cater to Chennai alone. It is to help people reach other connecting places quicker. The problem with the current national highways connecting Chennai to Bengaluru and Madurai is that the authorities either have no control or have only partial control over elements that hinder traffic on these routes. The expressway corridor, on the other hand, will allow entry or exit only at nine points. This will speed up the travel time besides providing faster connectivity to important towns like Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Thiruvannamalai. This will also provide a faster connectivity to industrial hubs and special economic zones.
Moreover, fears that it will be hard for people to access their lands or farms on the other side of the road are unfounded. The corridor will be an elevated one, providing for sufficient underpasses for the people to go across. There will be an underpass every 300 metres to make it easy for people to move about.
The corridor stops at Chengalpattu and doesn’t come to Chennai. Connectivity to port and other places could be a problem.
The corridor aligns with the outer ring road at Vandalur. From here, getting to Chennai, Ennore or the private Kattupakkam ports will be easy since vehicles can use the Chennai-bypass and then latch on to the proposed elevated highway to Chennai port or travel further on the bypass and reach Ennore or Kattupalli ports. The Vandalur outer ring road can provide quicker access to north and central Chennai. For south Chennai, the Vandalur-Kelamabakkam four-lane road will stand in good stead besides helping those headed to Mamallapuram or the East Coast Road.
A flyover is coming up at Perungalathur on the Chennai-Madurai highway to help ease traffic congestion of vehicles entering and leaving Chennai.
The travel cost will be high as toll charges will prove to be a burden on those using it.
One, the expressway corridor isn’t going to be the only route from Chennai to Salem. If people have the time and feel the toll charges are high, they can use the alternate routes. Second, the DPR has estimated the travel cost for a car on the proposed corridor at Rs 2,240 compared with a cost of over Rs 2,900 on the Chennai-Krishnagiri-Salem route and Rs 2,625 on the Chennai-Ulundurpet-Salem route.
The costs have been arrived at taking into consideration the cost of running the vehicle, the value of travel time, the actual time, toll charges and the trip length.
Defence Industrial Corridor
The expressway will also help the units that come under the defence industrial corridor connecting Chennai, Tiruchi, Salem, Coimbatore and Bengaluru. With various industries, particularly those in Salem and Coimbatore, showing keen interest, the corridor will serve them in good stead to get their supplies or transport their product.
A in Tamil daily Dinamalar said the Tamil Nadu government has begun acquiring the lands for the project. A tender for the project under the Bharatmala Pariyojana scheme will likely be issued in 45 days and before the year ends, construction work should begin.