CHENNAI: In the wake of the raging protests, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had announced in the Assembly in June that the Chennai-Salem greenfield expressway project proposal would be reworked to minimise environment and social impact.
Accordingly, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has made certain alignment changes and saved two-thirds forest area. An application has been filed before the Union Environment Ministry seeking to amend the Terms of Reference (ToR) and is currently under consideration.
The original plan endangers a whopping 120 hectares of forest area, while revised plan needs only 45 hectares to be diverted. The big save was made in Salem and Tiruvannamalai. The forest area diversion in Jarugumalai reserve forest in Shervaroy (south) in Salem has been limited to 243 metres from earlier 3.14 km. Besides, two reserve forests - Namedu and Sorakolathur - in Tiruvannamalai are completely avoided.
Initially, 2.5 km length of proposed highway was supposed to be cut through these two reserve forests. The only reserve forest that stands to lose more area than earlier is Siruvanjur reserve forest in Chengalpattu forest division of Kancheepuram district. A total of 890 metres of forest area is likely to be diverted, compared to previous 460 metres.
When contacted, senior NHAI and State forest department officials have confirmed the development and told the Express that minor shift in alignment at possible location without compromising geometrics was done after detailed investigation and field visits held jointly by the project consultant, NHAI and forest officials.
Sources said the NHAI had already submitted revised Form-1, pre-feasibility report and court case details against the project. Currently, there are 12 writ petitions pending before Madras High Court filed by different petitioners seeking stay on the project.
Another major amendment proposed by the NHAI was to pull out the three bypass roads - Chengalpattu to Kancheepuram (30 km), Semmampadi to Chetpet (4.7 km) and Polur to Tiruvannamalai (16 km) - from the purview of the Chennai-Salem expressway project to reduce the cost burden.