High Court had struck down NHAI’s plan for laying the road in 2010

Uncertainty looms over the new bypass road that is to connect the Tiruchi-Madurai, Tiruchi-Dindigul and Tiruchi-Karur national highways on the outskirts of the city as no decision has been arrived yet on identifying an alternative alignment since the High Court struck down the plan to lay the road across irrigation tanks.

Work on the bypass road was halted after the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court based on petition filed by local farmers, struck down National Highways Authority of India’s plan to lay the road across Kothamangalam, Kallikudi, and Punganur tanks in 2010. The farmers alleged that laying the road across the tanks would affect irrigation and their livelihood.

The road was to run from Panchapur on the NH 45 via Thayanur to Jeeyapuram on NH 67. The project was taken up as part of widening of the NH 67 being executed on a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis.

Widening of the Karur highway is nearing completion even as the fate of the bypass road hangs in balance. The court in a subsequent order had also ordered the NHAI to remove the sand dumped on Kothamangalam and Punganur tanks for laying the road. The process started recently and is still underway.

Although a public hearing was held in December 2011 to elicit views of locals on the possible alternative alignments for the road, no headway has since been made in finalising the revised alignment. While four possible alternative alignments were discussed, a new alignment that suggested that the road pass through the south side of Aruvankudi tank starting from Panchapur and culminating at Kaliyankadu was strongly opposed by local farmers as it involved acquiring about 43 hectares of agricultural lands.

With the NHAI yet to arrive at a decision on the revised alignment, farmers, who originally took the matter to the court, have demanded that a decision be made expeditiously.

“We are not against laying the bypass road. We want the water bodies to be protected and all encroachments removed. At the same time, we want the authorities to arrive at a decision early and finalise an alternative alignment at the earliest,” said M.P.Chinnadurai, district president, Tamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam. Resolutions pressing this demand were adopted at a recent meeting of farmers representatives of all parties from the locality, Mr.Chinnadurai said.

However, enquiries with the district administration revealed that the NHAI was yet to convey a firm decision on which alternative alignment they are opting for. “They are yet to submit the land plan schedule for whatever alignment they choose,” a senior district official told The Hindu.

Nevertheless, reliable sources indicated that the NHAI had a few months ago informed the district administration that they would be willing to go by the second of the four alternative alignments, by building an elevated highway despite the higher cost involved. But this alignment too involved laying the road across tanks, which the court had strongly advised against, the sources said.

The district administration, the sources said, had subsequently suggested that the NHAI as well go by the original alignment conceived in 2006-07 as part of the detailed project report of the NHAI. Farmers had then alleged that this alignment was shifted under pressure from local politicians and it was this alignment that was successfully challenged by them in the court.

Sources in the NHAI said that they had asked for a report from the project consultant on what best could be done now. A decision is expected to be taken after receiving the report by mid-December. But given the long history of political lobbying involved right from the beginning of the project, it remains to be seen whether the authorities would be able to arrive at a decision any time soon.