CHENNAI: The conversion of a 10.3-km four-lane stretch of East Coast Road from Thiruvamiyur to Akkarai into a six-lane one has turned out to be the most expensive road project to be carried out by the state highways department ever. The project cost has escalated due to a three-fold jump in land acquisition costs in 10 years. The department has allocated Rs 1,099 crore for the project, an average of Rs 106 crore for each km of road.
While the average construction cost per km for a four-lane flyover in Koyambedu was Rs 95 crore, the cost for building three-lane flyovers at Retteri, Pallavaram, and Medavakkam ranged from Rs 45 to Rs 48 crore per km. The cost of land acquisition for the ECR project, estimated at Rs 356 crore in 2012, surged to Rs 756 crore in 2019 and went up to Rs 940 crore in February this year.
Issuance of natham pattas a reason for increased cost
Highways officials said Rs 159 crore (15% of project cost) was the actual construction cost of the ECR project that commenced in 2022. The project is expected to be completed in the next nine months.
The current width of the four-lane ECR ranges from 50 to 80 feet and it is proposed to be expanded to 102 feet by adding an additional lane on each side, with provision for stormwater drain. The road had to be widened due to vehicular congestion in the thickly-populated residential locality, officials said.
According to a source, the increased cost can be attributed to two factors ---- issuance of Natham settlement pattas between 2006 and 2009 and authorisation for constructing multi-storey residential and commercial buildings on the stretch till 2008.
Multiple sources from revenue, highways and Chennai Corporation told TNIE that the government had announced the six-lane project in 2005 but pattas for grama natham land parcels were issued till 2009 for villages along the ECR that were previously part of Kancheepuram district.
Technically, grama natham lands belong to the government. But they are designated for public habitation, unlike porambokku land which is entirely under the control of the government. “Despite being aware of the ECR widening project, revenue authorities succumbed to the pressures of village panchayat presidents and other local leaders and issued pattas. These land parcels were subsequently sold to private parties, resulting in an escalation of land acquisition cost,” an official said.
Government agencies over the years also allowed the construction of multi-storey residential buildings and commercial shops on private lands until 2008. This also led to higher compensation being paid to the land owners, sources said.
While dismissing the petitions challenging land acquisition, the Madras High Court affirmed the legitimacy of grama natham pattas, equating them to private pattas, and directed that landowners be awarded increased compensation. The delay in the ECR widening project has also led to a delay in the construction of flyovers at the intersection of Lattice Bridge Road and ECR, particularly at the Jayanthi theatre signal in Thiruvanmiyur and at Akkarai junction.