Heart wrenching video footages can be seen from several villages of Salem district, where revenue officials with the help of police officials lay marker stones as the first steps towards land acquisition for the much hyped #Salem8Lane project.
Many women cry and openly curse the Chief Minister and government, but to no avail. The tears of these women and children has failed to move Edappadi Palanisamy who is bent upon completing this project at a war footing.
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for projects related to Infrastructure Development, Industrial estate/parks/complexes/areas etc. for the first time examined this project on 7th May 2018 and granted permission for releasing Terms of Reference (ToR) on the followiong conditions :
“(i) Re-analyse options of possible routes in respect of their suitability from environmental point of view and issues related to R&R.
(ii) Possibility of re-alignment from Chengam to Salem to avoid Kalrayan Hill Forest.
(iii) Thorough assessment of proposed road alignment on wetlands including tanks and small reservoirs along the alignment and its mitigation strategy.
(iv) The water should be procured from authorised tankers. Details of the authorised agency be mentioned and also needs to submit the permission to use water from concerned department.
(v) No objection certificate to be obtained from the Chief Wildlife Warden that proposed alignment is not passing through any wildlife corridor and also that no wildlife sanctuary and Eco-Sensitive Area/Zone are within the 10 km of proposed alignment.
(vi) Comprehensive assessment of impact of road on local biodiversity, wildlife corridors and its mitigation strategy from a nationally recognized institute.”
However, the state government seems to be oblivious to the above recommendations and has commenced the process of land acquisition.
The EAC report unambiguously gives a direction to ‘reanalyse options of possible routes in respect of their suitability from environmental point of view and issues related to R&R (Rehabilitation & Resettlement)’.
There seem to be no effort made in this regard. A realignment without affecting fertile lands could very well avoid several issues that stand in the way of this project.
The EAC report has also categorically instructs both the NHAI / government to avoid Kalrayan forest. This in other words means, clearance for the existing route running through Kalrayan forest would be denied. The thorough assessment of road alignment with wet lands including tanks and small reservoirs also has not been done by the Edappadi Palanisamy government.
India is one of the signatories to the Ramsar convention. As per the convention, Magarel and Uthiramerur are identified as ‘prioritised wet lands in Tamil Nadu’ as per a document of TN government.
Wetlands are the ecotones or transitional zones between permanently aquatic and dry terrestrial ecosystems. Ramsar Convention has defined wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters”. A wide variety of wetlands like marshes, swamps, open water bodies, mangroves and tidal flats and salt marshes etc. exists in our country.
Apart from this, 18 varieties of top canopy flaura, 9 varieties of underwood flaura and 14 thorn-forest flaura are available in the proposed route for Salem 8 lane. TN government doesn’t seem to be bothered to take any action to preserve the ecology and rare flaura / fauna enroute 8 lane.
Further, EAC mandates obtaining of NOC from Chief Wild Life Warden that proposed alignment is not passing through any wildlife corridor and also that no wildlife sanctuary and Eco-Sensitive Area/Zone are within the 10 km of proposed alignment. Even according to the EAC, the proposed Salem 8 lane commences near Vandalur, 1.5 kilometer away from the Vandalur Zoological Park.
Taking objection to the proposed route which has serious impact on ecologically sensitive places and species, Senthil Kumar, an activist based in Chennai has addressed the Chief Wildlife Warden, Tamil Nadu Forest Department, Chennai with regard to the grant of No Objection Certificate to the proposed project.
In his letter dated, 25 June 2018, which has been accessed exclusively by Savukku, Senthil Kumar says, around 300 acres of forest land to be acquired for this project will result in cutting down of around 30,000 trees. He also says that Arignar Anna Zoological Park, which is situated in 1.5 kms nearer to the proposed 8 lane would be hazardous to the survival of the wildlife comfortably accomodated there.
Senthil Kumar, also had sought a personal hearing with the Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to furnish materials in support of his claim.
Earlier on 22 June 2018, Senthil Kumar had addressed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change with a similar plea. Read about this representation here.
When contacted, Senthil Kumar said that, the speed in which the TN government is acquiring lands and laying marker stones creates a huge suspicion that the government do not care about ecological damages the proposed 8 lane is about to cause. “They are least worried about environmental norms and fast tracking this project flouting all norms. If the project moves ahead without the mandatory study and clearances, I will move the High Court of Madras for issuance of an appropriate Writ against the authorities” added Senthil Kumar.
He further added, “there is no mention as to how and where the 11,20,000 Kilo liters of water required for construction of the road is about to be procured”. The EAC report also says that assessment of road impact on local biodiversity, wildlife corridors and its mitigation strategy from a nationally recognized insititute has to be done.
But till date, no institute has been commissioned to make this study. Without completing any of the elemental work, why is the government so keen to acquire lands for the project, wonders Senthil Kumar.
In a major goof up, in the Terms of Reference (ToR) issued to the Project Director, NHAI for the Salem 8 lane green corridor expressway, Environment Impact Assessement (EIA) and Environment Management Plan is sought for ‘construction of 8-lane Bengaluru-Chennai Expressway Phase-I from Bengaluru at km 0.000 and ends at km 71.000 near Village N.G. Hulkur, Taluk Bangarpet’ and not for Chennai-Salem 8 lane expressway.
“As per the recommendation of the EAC, the MoEF&CC hereby accords ToR for construction of 8-lane Bengaluru-Chennai Expressway Phase-I from Bengaluru at km 0.000 and ends at km 71.000 near Village N.G. Hulkur, Taluk Bangarpet, District Kolar (Karnataka) (Length of 73.050 including spur alignment of 2.05 km), by M/s National Highways Authority of India and for preparation of EIA/EMP report with public consultations subject to compliance of all conditions as notified in the standard ToR applicable for highways and specific conditions”, reads the Terms of Reference.
The Terms of Reference further states that, “Public hearing shall be conducted based on the ToR letter issued by the Ministry and not on the basis of the minutes of the meeting available on the website.”
Whether public hearing is about to be conducted for Bengaluru-Chennai Expressway or Chennai-Salem Expressway remains to be seen. An advocate who doesn’t want to be quoted said, on this ground alone, the project can be stayed by a High Court for ‘non-application of mind’.
Senthil Kumar, the activist who had sent representations to the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the Chief Wildlife Warden not to grant NOC to the Salem 8 lane green expressway, says, he would take part in the public hearing to be conducted by the TN Pollution Control Board and submit all the evidences that he is collecting and insist on scrapping of the project.
With Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy, very keen to implement this project in spite of the protests, it appears that there would be several rounds of litigations in High Courts and Tribunals before the project takes off.
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