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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII No. 13, October 16-31, 2012
"Let's bury 'road in-the-sky' and save the Cooum River"
By M.G. Devasahayam

Recently, the Water Resources Department (WRD) of the Government of Tamil Nadu directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to stop work on the Chennai Port-Maduravoyal elevated 'highway' which was deceptively renamed a 'link road' only to get approval under CRZ Rules. The reason given was that, during an inspection, it was found that pile caps constructed for the project obstructed the free flow of water in the Cooum. It was also found that the alignment of the elevated road was not along the bank of the river but in the waterway itself. After stopping work, the State Government has sought a "technical justification" from the NHAI for the alignment and, pending that, the project has been put on hold.

This project has a history of farce and scandal. In 2006, L&T Ramboll submitted a feasibility study for a Rs. 750-crore dedicated 9-km elevated expressway from the southern gate of Chennai Port to Maduravoyal on NH 4. The project was to facilitate movement of cargo from and to Chennai Port and was planned as a four-lane corridor. The alignment suggested was approved by the Public Works Department of the Tamil Nadu Government in June 2007.

After this, mysteriously, and for reasons not known, Wilbur Smith Associates were appointed to prepare a fresh feasibility report and review the alignment proposed by L&T-Ramboll. Wibur Smith submitted its report in July 2007 and a presentation was made in December in New Delhi. Responding to what appeared to be a pre-fixed agenda, this Report suggested a 19-km alignment, most of it right on the banks of River Cooum. The cost estimate also shot up to Rs. 1,468 crore. The Feasibility Report mentioned that the expected environmental impacts of the project would include loss of water bodies, green cover, change in land use, accelerated urbanisation, etc. without suggesting any remedial measures.

Based on this Report, NHAI suggested a change of alignment – passing over the existing Poonamallee High Road from Maduravoyal to Koyambedu and then go along the Cooum River up to the Port. The project was estimated to cost Rs. 1,468 crore (it is now stated to be Rs. 1,815 crore). The Government of Tamil Nadu (Highways Department) in March 2008 conveyed approval for the project with caveats virtually directing all State Government agencies to clear the revised alignment without demur.

Even before obtaining any of the mandatory clearances, Soma Enterprise reportedly signed a 15-year concession agreement with the NHAI on May 18, 2009, and started the preliminary project work and Prime Minister Manmohan Shingh came from Delhi to lay the 'foundation stone'. The State Government was to hand over 50 per cent of the land within six months from date of signing the agreement and the balance within one year. The company claimed that the project cost would be Rs. 2,090 crore and that the Government of India will provide 40 per cent of the project cost as viability gap fund. The company also revealed that it had already received up-front payment of over Rs.260 crore!

It is evident from the above that even before the basic environmental/CRZ clearances and approvals were received by the project, the following had been done:

  • Project estimate sanctioned and approved.
  • Concession given to private party, tenders floated and contracts awarded.
  • Up-front payment of over Rs.260 crore to the Company as viability gap funding.
  • Prime Minister laid the 'foundation stone'.
  • Land has been partly acquired and construction work started.
  • Hundreds of slum dwellers and families uprooted.

All these, without any public consultation or discussion.

It is to be noted that within three/four years the project cost has spiralled from Rs. 750 crore to Rs 1,468 crore to Rs. 1,815 crore to Rs. 2,090 crore! Feasibility and project reports prepared by consultants Wilbur Smith Associates also contained several questionable assertions. Two of these instances were a claim of having held public consultations whereas none had been held, and an exaggeration about the number of soil samples done.

A study of the project would indicate gross violation of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 as well as the CRZ Notification, 1991, and could not have, under any circumstances, been cleared. Besides, it is riddled with questions from the very beginning.

Now it is found that the construction is blocking the flow of water in the Cooum! This in itself is bad enough and could be disastrous during the monsoon and days of flood when the adjacent areas could be inundated. In the event, it is imperative to abandon the project and to recover from the beneficiaries the amounts already spent.

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In this Issue

Why so much secrecy?
Need supervised renovation, NOT demolition
"Let's bury 'road in-the-sky' and save the Cooum River"
The creation of a Chennai landmark
Following the trail of Vere Levinge
A merchant remembers...
Opportunity beckons in Rock Fort City
Madras chunam and other finds
That first Ranji triumph
Steps to bring back the House Sparrows

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your diary


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