Proposed Expressway In Chennai; Will It Be The Highway To Hell?

Posted on March 9, 2012 in Specials

By Soumya M:

CRZ- Coastal Regulation Zone notification was issued in the year 1991 whose objective was to protect and improve the coastal environment by regulating and restricting activities that may damage the coastline and the sea creatures. Over the past 15 years, 19 amendments have been made in the CRZ, which have only diluted the intention of its primary objective. Giving the perfect example for such type of an amendment would be the reduction of NDZ from 200 metres to 50 metres. This amendment was believed to be taken under the interest of the tourism sector. A detailed study of the other amendments shows that relaxation of regulations was provided for industrial activities under the pressure of undisclosed agencies.

The proposal of an elevated expressway from Chennai port to Maduravoyal has a similar story. People believed that proposed project wouldn’t get clearance based upon the CRZ notification issued in 1991. CRZ 1991 prohibited road construction on beaches and inter tidal areas. But the recent modifications in CRZ cleared the air by clearly stating that it permits roads anywhere along the coasts, provided that they run on stilts. Before digging any further, one has to understand that nearly one lakh people are going to be displaced if this proposed construction starts, which not only means that they have nowhere to go, but will also lose their means of livelihood.

Now, you may wonder, why the non compliance with the existing CRZ? The environment minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh has spoken about a practical CRZ which suits the special needs of Mumbai. Apparently, existing laws can be changed if they do not suit the proposed activities in the name of development. This has happened over and again and a proven example is POSCO. Perhaps India’s biggest FDI, it has been granted over 4000 acres of land, of which 3000 acres is forest land. A known fact that resides here is that the Scheduled caste and Scheduled tribe people have a right over this land, which is in fact cultivating land. Yet, a lot of protests from people for 5 years has delayed the work on this project.

Coming back to the elevated expressway of Chennai, let’s see the problems likely to be faced if the construction of the expressway were to start:

  • The newly created Adyaar Poonga and fishing villages along Foreshore road, Adyar estuary and parts of Besant Nagar will be affected by the expressway.
  • Environmentalists argue that Chennai’s beaches are the nesting grounds of the critically endangered Olive Ridley Turtles. They also ensure safe nesting season of the Olive Ridley Turtles between December and April.
  • Building an expressway means leveling the dunes. Changing the topography of the beach will only intensify the extent of damage due to natural calamities like tsunamis and storms. The recent earthquake and tsunami that has hit Japan has flattened sections of the Tohoku elevated expressway thus adding to the voluminous destruction.

Being an environment minister himself, Jairam Ramesh, under the guise of protecting the environment has conveniently changed laws to suit his personal gains. The major concern being, putting up of infrastructure on a large scale which facilitates the exposure of more number of ecologically sensitive areas for tourism. This not only spoils the beach with debris from the construction but also increases the air and sound pollution levels along the coast.

Negative criticism and protests have been showered at the project right from its inception. Even though we are armed with RTI, the ministry has selective information and doesn’t disclose identities of the agencies or the individuals who pressurize the party in power to change laws at the cost of people’s woes and environmental hazards.

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