Will Minister’s elevated corridor proposal put service lane project in limbo?

3 months ago 33

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The recent suggestion of Minister for Public Works Department and Highways, E. V. Velu, to the Centre to build an elevated highway between Thuvakudi and Tiruchi has raised a question mark over the proposal to build service lanes along the 14.5 km stretch of the Tiruchi-Thanjavur National Highway.

Land acquisition for the service lanes are supposed to be under way currently after a long struggle and a legal battle waged by residents living along the highway stretch. Residents lobbying for the cause had been contending that the accident rate has been very high in the absence of service lanes.

However, property owners and traders who face displacement due to land acquisition, organised as Tiruchi-Thanjai NH67 Salai Virivakka Panikalal Bathikapaduvor Kootammaippu, had mooted the construction of an elevated corridor as an alternative so as to protect the livelihood of a large number of people who would be affected by the project.

In October 2019, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to take expeditious steps to build service lanes along the stretch. It also ordered that the land acquisition process should proceed. District Collector S. Sivarasu had recently said that the land acquisition process will be completed by January.

But Mr.Velu, during his recent meeting with Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari to present a memorandum seeking various road projects in the State, had suggested that an elevated highway be laid between Tiruchi and Thuvakudi to avoid traffic congestion. However, there is still no official word on the fate of the proposal to build service lanes.

The suggestion has evoked reactions on expected lines from the rival groups. While the traders were happy that their demand has been echoed by the Minister, representatives of the residents associations are unhappy and insist that the DMK government should honour the High Court direction and its own pre-poll promise on the matter.

“We are happy that the Minister has made the suggestion as it would avoid any displacement and deprivation of livelihood. If approved, there will be no need for land acquisition or cumbersome shifting of utility lines, including water supply lines,” observed S. Raghunathan, secretary of Tiruchi-Thanjai NH67 Salai Virivakka Panikalal Bathikapaduvor Kootammaippu.

He contended that the expenditure for building service lanes and elevated highway would be more or less the same. For, the government has to pay compensation based on the guideline value from 2013 and there could be delay due to litigations. Saving a thriving local business/economy along the highway would be major benefit as it brings substantial revenue to the government. “If displaced, it will be very difficult the revive the businesses/economy,” he said.

But S. Subramaniyan, organiser, the Federation for Retrieval of Tiruchi-Palpannai-Thuvakudi Service Roads, dismissed the contention and expressed shock over the Minister’s suggestion coming at a time when the land acquisition process is under way after a long struggle by residents.

“We consider the service lanes to be essential and are planning to write to the Union Minister and the Chief Minister drawing their attention to the frequent fatalities due to accidents and also the court directions. The PWD Minister has voiced the traders demand, which is just a diversionary and delaying tactic. It may take another 10 years to implement the proposed ₹1500 crore elevated highway,” Mr.Subramanian alleged.

“The present DMK Ministers K. N. Nehru and Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi had supported our demand when in Opposition. Chief Minister M. K. Stalin had also reportedly assured that the service lanes will be implemented”, he said.

He claimed that the traders may not have to lose their properties fully and many would have to give up just the front elevation or a portion of the buildings. They are to be suitably compensated for this and the service lanes have to be built in the larger interest of the residents. The Federation, he said, would take to the streets again to press its demand.

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