THRISSUR: Nine years after works started for the 1.6 km-long twin tube tunnel road at Kuthiran on the Palakkad-Thrissur stretch of NH 544, one of the tunnels was opened for traffic on Saturday evening. Vehicles proceeding from Palakkad to Thrissur were allowed through the left tunnel from 7.30 pm.
However, the usual glitz and glamour of opening ceremony was missing as Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari was not in favour of conducting the inauguration before completing the second tunnel. The state government was caught unawares as PWD Minister P A Mohamed Riyaz had announced on July 29 that the tunnel will be opened in August itself.
The opening of Kuthiran tunnel comes in contrast to the controversy over opening of Vyttila flyover in January 2021. Protesting the delay in opening of Vyttila flyover, activists of V4Kochi had removed the barricades at Thykoodam and allowed vehicles to enter the bridge at 7pm on January 5, 2021, four days ahead of the inauguration. The bridge was opened by the Chief Minister virtually on January 9.
The sudden decision to open the tunnel came as a surprise to the state government as the PWD was planning to conduct the inaugural function on August 1. Nitin Gadkari announced the opening of the tunnel through a tweet at 2.33 pm on Saturday. The vehicle carrying Thrissur district collector Haritha V Kumar passed through the tunnel marking its opening.
In a statement, the NHAI said the decision to avoid an inaugural ceremony was taken in view of the Covid situation prevailing in the state. The formal inauguration of the tunnel will be held when the second tunnel is ready for opening. Responding to the media, district collector said that it was a joyful moment that the Central government gave permission to open the tunnel. Meanwhile, no ministers or officials from the state works department were present during the opening of the tunnel.
The construction of twin tube tunnel which passes through Peechi-Vazhani wildlife sanctuary was launched in 2012. Protests by local people against blasting of rocks had hampered the work. Following protests, the work was stopped temporarily. The issue was resolved as local people who suffered damage to their property were compensated.
As the tunnel passes through a major wildlife sanctuary, concerns were raised about the ecological impact of the project. Since Kuthiran hills are ecologically fragile and even suffered mild land slips during the 2018 floods, experts had suggested steps to ensure public safety. The work on the left tunnel was completed by following all safety measures as per expert advice.
KPCC secretary and social activist Shaji Kodankandath led a legal battle for almost six years to put pressure on the contracting company and NHAI to complete the works of twin tube tunnel at Kuthiran. After considering his petition, High Court of Kerala had urged the contracting company and NHAI to complete the works by March 31, 2021, but the company failed to stick to it. Pandemic-related curbs also slowed down work.
No toll for now
T’Puram: No toll will be collected from the Kuthiran tunnel opened for traffic, said Local MLA and revenue minister P Rajan.“Tolls will be collected only after the second tunnel starts functioning,” he said during a combined press meet with Public Works minister P A Mohamed Riyas here on Saturday. As per the initial plan, the opening of the tunnel was scheduled for Sunday with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurating it. But the tweet from Union transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari, announcing the opening, caught the state administration unawares.Riyas said it was Pinarayi who worked diligently to speed up the work when the project was facing inordinate delay. “Now, PWD will do everything in its capacity to complete the second Kuthiran tunnel in a time-bound manner,” he said.