CHENNAI: The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, has recommended to the National Highways Authority of India to study the possibility of realigning the Chennai-Salem Express Highway between Chengam and Salem as it would affect the Kalvarayan hill forest.
While granting the terms for references for the Rs 10,000-crore eight-lane green corridor project between Chennai and Salem, the Ministry of Environment has observed that protecting Kalvarayan hills is essential and recommended to bring out a detailed report on number of trees to be felled for the project and its impact. “Kalvarayan hill forest between Chengam and Salem is important and is required to be conserved,” observed the EAC at its 189th meeting held on May 8 in Delhi.
Aiming to reduce the travel distance by 50 km between Chennai and Salem, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) has proposed to develop the 274.3-km green corridor project.The proposed greenfield corridor starts near Chennai ring road in Vandalur and ends at NH-544 bypassing Salem. The proposed alignment passes through Kancheepuram, Tiruvannamalai, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem districts. The project also envisages construction of three bypass roads each at Kancheepuram (30 km), Chetpet (4.7 km) and Thiruvannamalai (16 km).
The proposed project involves construction of 23 major bridges, 156 minor bridges, nine flyovers, 22 vehicular under-passes (VUP), two major bridges-cum-vehicular underpasses grade II, 33 vehicular underpasses grade II and three tunnels.
Total land acquisition for the proposed alignment is about 2,560 hectares. There are about 32 settlements along the proposed alignment. “The tentative length of the affected forest area along the proposed alignment is about 13.290 km with about 120 hectares of affected forest area,” said the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in its proposal.
The proposed road will have toll plazas at eight locations and 10 bus and truck parking bays.After detailed deliberation, the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has granted the terms of references with the specific conditions that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) should find a possibility of re-alignment from Chengam to Salem to skip Kalvarayan hill forest.
The NHAI should “reanalyse the options of possible routes in respect of their suitability from environmental point of view. In addition, the NHAI should also conduct a comprehensive assessment of impact of road on local biodiversity, wildlife corridors and its mitigation strategy from a nationally recognized institute,” said the documents of Environmental ministry accessed by Express.
The Environmental Ministry has also directed a thorough assessment of proposed road alignment on wetlands including tanks and small reservoirs along the alignment and its mitigation strategy. While the Forest department is yet to assess the total number of trees to be felled for the project, the NHAI estimated that about 6,400 trees will have to be cut for acquiring the right of way (ROW), additional space required for the road project to build bus and truck parking bays.