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Madras High Court order on Chennai Salem Highway

Madras High Court order on Chennai Salem Highway

Relevance:

  • GS 3 || Environment || Environment & Ecology || Sustainable Development

Why in news?

  • The Madras High Court quashed the land acquisition proceedings for the proposed Chennai-Salem greenfield corridor.

Chennai-Salem greenfield corridor

  • The 300 km long, 8-lane highway project was proposed to connect Salem to Chennai.
  • The highway passed through Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem districts, an agrarian region comprising reserved forest areas and several industrial zones.
  • A feasibility study for the project pegged –
    • the total cost at Rs 9,106 crores and
    • a tentative cost for rehabilitation and resettlement had been worked out to Rs 415 crores.

Objective

  • There are three existing routes between Salem and Chennai:
    • Ulundurpet to Chennai,
    • Walajah to Chennai and
    • the Chennai – Tiruvannamalai – Harur – Salem routes.
  • Government’s argument to justify the project idea was that –
    • the first two existing stretches are facing abnormal delay due to increasing traffic volume carrying over one lakh passenger car units a day,
    • the second stretch too may not reduce travel time even if a bypass route was introduced.
  • It suggested that a direct Salem – Chennai highway may be the only solution to ease traffic and reduce the travel time.

High Court rationale

  • Approval: The project first came to light on February 25, 2018, in a letter written by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to the Union minister for road transport, highways and shipping.
    • The Centre gave its nod on the same day.
  • Clearance: A special division bench passed the order on the grounds that the project will have a huge impact on the environment and water bodies in the area.
    • The court cited the failure of the state government in conducting a mandatory public hearing and not receiving prior environmental clearance from the Centre.
    • Meanwhile, as the court noted on Monday, farmers in the five districts complained that they were not consulted.
    • It also based its judgment on major flaws in the project report submitted by a private consultant.
  • Impact: The farmers feared that the project would destroy the most productive farmlands in Kancheepuram and Tiruvannamalai districts.
    • The court order also raised questions about a vulnerable reserve forest stretch near the project alignment.
  • A feasibility study report, which said the project is expected to generate development around the towns, employment opportunities to the local people along the stretch, was scrapped by the HC, in light of the above drawbacks.

Additional info

 Mains question

  • “Madras High Court stay on Chennai-Salem highway project is welcome relief for farmers. But it is worrying that a court has to protect people and forests from their government.” Discuss.