Is it Our Way or The Highway?

Everything you need to know about the Salem-Chennai Green Corridor Project. 

-Dhipthi Dona J, III B.A. English

Art by Dhipthi Dona J, III B.A. English

The central government funded Chennai-Salem green corridor project is an eight-lane expressway of 277.3 km that cuts through the five districts of Salem, Dharmapuri, Krisahnagiri, Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram. The 10,000 crore project is to reduce 57 km travel distance between Salem and Chennai. The expressway aims to increase the efficiency of freight movement between the cities.

Though the Chief Minister of the state and the officials claim that 90% of the farmers are willing to co-operate while the rest are only protesting for a higher compensation, the instances of farmers jumping into wells and their families falling at the feet of officials, pleading with them to not survey their farm, suggests otherwise. The opposition parties along with multiple farmer associations like the Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, All India Kisan Sabha, All India Kisan Mahasabha and All India Krishak Khet Majdoor Sangathan, have held protests in various parts of the state ever since the announcement of the project. They bring to light the concern over the legitimacy of the hefty compensation by citing the example of a large number of farmers who still haven’t received the compensation  promised to them by the then government for the land they parted with (over a decade ago) for the Salem-Ulundurpettai national highways.

While the project is spurring controversy all across the state, its feasibility report is intriguing for all the wrong reasons. Amidst the shabby copy-paste work, the name of a Chinese city (Xi’an) hasn’t been removed from the document. The report repeats the same set of information in four chapters, (which runs for seven to eight pages each) occasionally seasoning it with general information about the state and the five districts from Wikipedia. Interestingly, the report also talks about gender equality and empowerment not being serious with regard to urban transport; clearly oblivious to the number of harassment cases reported on an everyday basis. The report makes random assertions that are highly subjective and vague, for example: “Many people were very positive about the project and during the discussions, many benefits were identified.” In no place does the report mention who the ‘many people’ are or what the ‘many benefits’ are.

Several journalists have also spotted factual errors in the Minutes of the 189th Meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee for Projects related to National Highways. The report mentions that in the 277.3 km of the expressway that cuts across 16 forest villages and seven reserve forests, (roughly 100 hectares of forest land) only 6,400 trees are to be cut. Considering the estimated felling of 17,000 trees for a redevelopment project of a central government accommodation in south Delhi (an urban residential space) it is clear that the approximate 6,400 is a gross understatement.

The acquisition of land for the expressway also puts at stake the land allocated to the scheduled caste and tribe communities. The procedure followed by our democratic government in matters of land acquisition is intriguing; for the inspection and surveying of the farmland and farms precedes the committee meetings organised to evaluate the opinions of the owners of the land. Such ‘development’ measures taken up by the government keeps raising the question of ‘how important a citizen’s opinion, wants and needs are to the governing body’, time and again.

 

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