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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 23, march 16-31, 2010
A waterway & an expressway
in conflict
(By M.G. Devasahayam)

Government’s simultaneous promotion of the 19-km long Chennai Port to Maduravoyal elevated expressway along the banks of the River Cooum and the ‘eco-restoration’ of the same river adopting the ‘Singapore model’ is a case of contradiction and conflict. The contradiction is this: Smooth and unhindered river flow into the sea is critical for the ‘restoration’ of the Cooum and to keep it clean. But the proposed elevated expressway hugging the river is a huge impediment to this, more so because several huge pillars would come up on the riverbed itself. This will particularly be so during times of floods.

This paper – in somewhat greater detail – was submitted along with other documents to the Union Ministers of Urban Development and Environment by a delegation led by Medha Patkar after a seminar held at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) in February 2010.

Actually, it is a situation of Waterway vs Expressway, with each damaging the other, making both projects economically and environmentally unsustainable.

 * * *

In 2006, L&T Ramboll submitted a feasibility study report for a Rs. 750-crore dedicated elevated four-lane expressway from the southern gate of Chennai Port to Maduravoyal on NH 4. The proposal, intended to facilitate movement of cargo from and to the Port, was sent to the Government of India, Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways. The alignment suggested was approved by the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department in June 2007.

Messrs. Wilbur Smith Associates was later appointed by the Tamil Nadu Government to prepare a fresh feasibility report and review the alignment proposed. Wilbur Smith presented its proposal in December 2007 in New Delhi. It suggested a 19-km alignment, most of it right on the banks of the River Cooum, at a cost of Rs. 1,468 crore. Its feasibility report mentioned environmental impacts expected, including loss of water bodies, green cover, change in land use, accelerated urbanisation, etc. The report was accepted by the Ministry, and the Chennai Port Trust was nominated as the Nodal Agency. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) was to be the implementing agency.

NHAI then suggested a change of alignment – passing over the existing Poonamallee High Road from Maduravoyal to Koyambedu and then going along the Cooum River up to the Port. The project was estimated to cost Rs. 1,468 crore (it is now Rs. 1,655 crore). The Tamil Nadu Government approved the project with these caveats: (a) District Collectors of Chennai and Thiruvallur to acquire the private land required for the project, including the lands which may be needed for R&R purposes; (b) Enumeration and documentation expeditiously of the project-affected families, structures etc. for R&R purposes, while the TNSCB simultaneously prepares a plan for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the project-affected families; (c) TNSCB to be the nodal agency from the State Government to coordinate with NHAI in completing the R&R work within a definite time frame; and (d) CMDA to issue a NOC for the project after taking into account the alignment of the Metro Rail Project.

* * *

The CMDA is required to give prior approval for such a ‘development project’. But due to the nature of the Development Control Regulations, CMDA perforce gives a NOC, subject to conditions, like the various clearances under the Environmental/CRZ and other laws. In this case too this has been done.

Environmentally, this project requires two clearances:

1. Under Environment (Protection) Rules, this project falls under Category A and it is mandatory to seek prior environmental clearance from the Government of India, MoEF. The process needs to go through three stages – Scoping; Public Consultation and Appraisal.

(i) Scoping refers to the process by which the Expert Appraisal Committee determines detailed and comprehensive Terms of Reference (TOR) addressing all relevant environmental concerns for the preparation of an Environment Impact Assessment Report.

(ii) Public Consultation to ascertain stakeholders/affected persons’ material concerns in the project or activity design, as appropriate. After completion of the public consultation, the applicant shall address all the material environmental concerns expressed during this process, and make appropriate changes in the draft EIA and EMP.

(iii) Appraisal means a detailed scrutiny by the Expert Appraisal Committee of the application and other documents, like the Final EIA report, outcome of the public consultations, including public hearing proceedings, submitted by the applicant to the regulatory authority concerned for grant of environmental clearance.

2. This project falls within the activities that are prohibited under Coastal Zone Regulations for stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters which are influenced by tidal action. So, prior clearance is required from the MoEF, Government of India, even before approval is given to the project.

None of the clearances has been obtained and Environmental Impact Assessment, with public participation, essential for obtaining these clearances, has not been prepared by the Consultant.

* * *

Despite the lack of these clearances, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of this project in January 2009. Six months later, in June 2009, Soma Enterprises claimed that it has signed a 15-year concession agreement with the NHAI in May and had started preliminary work. The State Government was to hand over 50% of the land within six months from the date of signing the agreement and the balance within one year. The Company also stated that the project costing Rs. 2,090 crore would be undertaken on a BOT basis. The Government of India would provide 40% of the project cost as viability gap fund. It also stated that it has received upfront payment of Rs.260 crore!

Starting soon after the foundation stone-laying ceremony and continuing throughout 2009, thousands of homes of slum dwellers and families that fall on the alignment route of the expressway have been uprooted and sent to far away places or left to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, the Expert Appraisal Committee for Coastal Regulation Zone (Infrastructure Development and Miscellaneous Projects), MoEF, found part of the proposed road falling in the inter-tidal zone (between high tide line and low tide line) along the Cooum, which is in violation of the CRZ Rules, and suggested that the alignment be revised. Earlier, in January 2009, the Tamil Nadu State Coastal Zone Management Authority also made the same observation and recommended that the project should fall beyond the HTL on the landward side of the Cooum.

* * *

Chennai Port Trust (CPT) did not agree to any change to the alignment. Sources at CPT and NHAI say it would be impossible to change the alignment. Sources in the MoEF say that the project is in violation of the CRZ rules and the CPT has not done the Environment Impact Assessment. Wilbur Smith Associates argues that the expressway is not a new National Highway and, hence, EIA is not mandatory. CPT also argues that the project is neither a National Highway nor an Expressway but only a connecting road between the  Port and the existing National Highway. Hence, it claimed that the project is permissible under CRZ Notification, 1991.

Expert Appraisal Committee for CRZ convened recently scrutinised the project again and did not recommend it for CRZ clearance. Instead, it has asked CPT to explain the basis on which this project is now presented as a link road.

All this has been done without any public consultation or discussion.

* * *

It is to be noted that within three years the project cost has spiralled from Rs. 750 crore to Rs. 2,090 crore.

The beach road link

Detailed feasibility reports were also submitted by Wilbur Smith Associates to the Highways Department in December 2008 and May 2009 for constructing the ‘Link Road from Light House on Kamarajar Salai to ECR via Besant Nagar’. Both reports claim a ‘Beach Committee’ as the source of this Rs. 1000-crore-plus project. The ‘Beach Committee’ was formed in the CMDA in 2004/05 with the limited purpose of keeping the Chennai beaches clean. Construction of roads and highways does not fall within its ambit. More importantly, when the suggestion of this road came up at the Committee’s meeting in February 2005, it was rejected outright. Nevertheless, the ‘beach elevated road’ found a place in the Draft Second Master Plan (SMP) under ‘Medium Term Transportation Schemes’ without any public/stakeholder consultation.

The SMP was notified in September 2008. Within weeks, the consultants submitted the ‘Detailed Feasibility Report’ for constructing a 17-feet high, 100-feet wide and 11-km long ‘elevated highway’ right over the famed beaches of Chennai, including the Marina, at a cost of over Rs. 1,000 crore! Traffic flow projections to justify the project were prepared. If the figures are correct, the ‘elevated highway’ would draw massive city traffic to the beach road (Kamarajar Salai), making it extremely congested and unusable.



In this issue

A landmark arising
What are we planning for the Buckingham Canal?
A waterway & an expressway in conflict
The Mylapore festival – that Sister Devamata witnessed 100 years ago
Historic Residences of Chennai - 38
Other stories

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