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Stuck in reverse: Tripunithura bypass project casts pall of gloom for residents

Valsala still hopes her life will turn around for the better.

Published: 02nd September 2021 06:54 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd September 2021 06:54 AM   |  A+A-

Thankachan, a retired government official suffering from age-related ailments, stands in front of his home, his life’s investment, that he cannot salvage

Express News Service

KOCHI: Story of Tripunithura bypass, which started in 1980, is now a saddening tale that has claimed the peace and dreams of many residents for over three decades. Proposal to include the 8km stretch in NH85 widening project came as a relief to affected families but delayed acquisition is worrying them again

Valsala still hopes her life will turn around for the better. Her home, where she was born and brought up, stands on the land which was earmarked for the Tripunithura bypass project. But now, the sexagenarian has only one wish — to get closure from the three-decade-old uncertainty over the bypass. Valasala’s struggle isn’t a one-off case. Over 100 families in the 8-kilometre-long stretch identified for the bypass project have harrowing experiences to tell — of being unable to repair dilapidated buildings or mortgage property.    

Since the inception of the Rs 9,213-crore Kochi-Theni four-lane greenfield NH85 project which aims to establish port-to-port connectivity between Kochi and Tuticorin, the families have been hoping for a respite. “How long do we need to wait? It seems like nobody is bothered about our lives and struggles. Those who can are leaving their property here, but many like me don’t have an alternative,” said Valsala. 

A resident stands near his now dilapidated house that he had to abandon as repairs was not possible due to uncertainity in land acquisition | A Sanesh

Thankachan, another resident, who struggles with illnesses that comes with his old age, points at his damaged house. “I was a government employee who served the state throughout my career. I invested all that money on this house, and now I cannot even repair it as the property it stands on is earmarked for the bypass. Survey stones have been laid on it. Either they have to acquire the property and compensate us or dump the project and give us some peace of mind,” he said, his hand shivering from illness and frustration.

The project, which was mooted back in 1980, fixed its alignment in 1989. After an initial round of protests, the then Union Government allocated `8.3crore, acquiring 3.75km towards the project in 1997. However, the Tripunithura bypass action council members point out that no serious initiative has been taken since then. 

“The project has been a cash cow for officials. We have been raising many alternative alignments which require fewer buildings to be demolished, but there has been no response. Families have neither received compensation nor are they allowed to sell their land. Now, we have two NH projects that pass through the proposed bypass. Ironically, the same agency’s divisions are implementing the two highway projects, but they are refusing to come together and address the bypass issue,” said TS Natarajan, secretary of the action council.

WE NEED A SOLUTION SOON, SAYS MP
Chalakkudy MP Benny Behanan believes the deadlock needs to be solved soon. “We demanded that NHAI utilise the land acquired in 2005 for Trippunithura bypass to integrate NH85 and NH544 and the officials have agreed. With NH544’s DPR preparation under way, I have interacted with project directors of both Kochi and Palakkad divisions of NHAI. I will soon have a discussion with the regional office to take up the matter with the agency’s headquarters. Hopefully, we will be able to solve the issue soon,” he said.

Centre’s word
Earlier, the Tripunithura bypass action council had received a letter from Prime Minister’s Office clarifying that the 8km-long Tripunithura bypass project has been included in the Bharatmala Pariyojana NH project. Though a meeting was held in the presence of Chalakkudy MP Benny Behanan and NHAI officials on July 7, nothing happened after that. There are arguments that the bypass would create curves beyond the permissible limits. But this has no logic behind it. I will lose my entire property and livelihood to the project. There are people who laid the foundation for their home on this land and passed away before they could complete it. Some children abandoned their academic aspirations because their property cannot be used as collateral for a loan. Many generations have suffered because of this project,” said Dinesh Kumar, a dairy farmer. 

Combined NH stretch till Mattakkuzhy
Amid concerns over the land acquisition, NHAI officials have clarified that the alignment is being finalised and detailed project report (DPR) preparation is underway. They claim the land for the bypass will be acquired soon. “Currently, both NH85 and NH544 were proposed to have parallel roads till Puthencruz. Considering public demand and inputs from our consultants, NHAI has decided to combine both these stretches and make it a single six-lane passage from Kundannoor to Mattakuzhy. We will make use of the land acquired for the Tripunithura bypass for this. From Mattakkuzhy, NH85 will continue as a separate four-lane corridor while NH544 bypass will be a six-lane road. Currently, the proposal is under review,” said an official. 



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